Hello! It’s seventeen different kids how lovely to hear from you. I love getting emails. The sugary coating, the jam in the middle– No wait, that’s doughnuts. I love doughnuts. The electronic format, the words written in a particular order– No wait, that’s emails. Where was I…?
Oh yes! Thanks for your email! I especially like it because it’s written to me. I’m sure you’d like to know a bit about me. Well, I’m taller than my mum and I have all my own teeth. But enough about me. It’s time to answer your questions! About me.
What would be your top 5 tips on writing a successful book?
- Read! Good writers are good readers.
- Write! As in, as much as you can – flex your mighty mind muscles and they’ll get stronger.
- Rewrite! Chances are you won’t get your book right first time round. Be ready to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite until you think you might go bonkers from all of the rewriting.
- Tell stories that excite you. If you’re passionate about the belly button fluff of elephants, that passion will come across in the book. Similarly, if you couldn’t care less about robot dinosaurs, you really shouldn’t be writing about them.
- Believe. Doubt in your own ability is all part of any creative endeavour, but if you think you have a great idea, believe in it and see it through to the end. You owe it to your idea.
Where do you write your stories?
Anywhere! On trains, in hotels, on the toilet … but usually in my study at home.
What inspired you to write?
I’ve always loved telling stories. As a child I spent my evenings and weekends and holidays making up characters and then putting them in all sorts of scrapes and situations. I’d write stories, draw comics or act our different scenarios with my brother. It usually involved play-fighting. A lot of play-fighting.
I also love eggs and cheese, but that’s a different story. It’s called Eggs and Cheese and Why I Love Them.
When did you start to write about Stitch Head? Once you have the main character, is it easier to write a series of books?
I started writing the book pretty soon after I’d come up with Stitch Head. It was a tricky start though – I wrote a good chunk of the story but Stitch Head’s character just wasn’t right so I had to go back and start again. Once I’d sorted out Stitch Head, the other characters started to fall into place. The Creature was deliberately very different to Stitch Head – it’s loud and carefree and could get Stitch Head into trouble without meaning to. On the other hand, Arabella (who doesn’t appear all that much in book one) was so much fun to write I made her a major character in subsequent books. It’s definitely easier to write more stories once you really ‘know’ the characters … easier, but never easy!
Where did the idea of Stitch Head come from?
I started out with the idea of a mad professor who made monsters in the grand tradition of Dr Frankenstein. But what if Frankenstein made his first monster what he was just a boy, out of leftovers from his dad’s own mad experiments. I did a little sketch in my notebook and the story unfolded from there.
At what age did you start writing books?
My early 30s. Before that I wrote plays. And, very occasionally, shopping lists.
What is your favourite book that you or someone else has written?
My favourite children’s book of ever all time ever in the world ever is George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl. If you get me talking about it, I WILL NOT STOP.
How many books have you written in total?
I’m hoping to finish writing book 29 next week…
Which was your first book to be published?
Gormy Ruckles, Monster Boy. When I was growing up, my mum used to say “I’ve got the Gormy Ruckles” when she wasn’t feeling well. I always thought it would be a good name for a monster. Thanks Mum!
Which book did you spend the most time on and why?
Gormy took ages (despite being quite short) ’cause it was my first book! I’m not sure which took the longest but the toughest to write was The Mighty Frog, which was the last in a trilogy. Tying up all the loose ends was a right pain in the plot!
Which book did you enjoy writing the most and why?
Possibly Secret Santa: Agent of X.M.A.S. ’cause it really fed my love of puns. Or the Atomic! books… or Dinkin Dings and the Frightening Things … or The Legend of Frog. Definitely one of those. Or one of the others. These questions are hard…
Is there a particular time of day when you prefer to write?
I’m not bad in the morning but I write best in the evenings, from around 6pm. It’s frustratingly anti-social but then, so am I 🙂
What is the scariest book you have written?
Probably Stitch Head: The Ghost of Grotteskew, because GHOSTS.
How long does it take to write and then publish a book?
How long is a piece of string? Well, in this case the piece of string is about 3 months long. That’s about how long it takes me, give or take a month either side. But I’m not writing solidly for 3 months! Right now, for example, I’m writing this email. And later I’m going to eat an apple.
How many times do you, or the publisher, edit the original story?
How long is a piece of– No wait, that was the last question. So, I rewrite a LOT before I deliver a first draft. Then it’s usually one or two more drafts before it’s more or less sort of ready. I think I’m getting better at delivering stronger first drafts but you’d have to ask my editor! My dream is to one day write the perfect, air-tight first draft. But. That. Will. Never, Happen.
When did you start writing for pleasure?
As soon as I could pick up a crayon!
Did you get on well at school?
School? Never heard of it. Is it some sort of new dance craze?
Was there a particular author or person who inspired you to write?
Too many to mention! But Roald Dahl and anyone writing comic books in the 1980s spring to mind.
Your books are published into different languages, do you speak any of the other languages?
Uh … Un petit peu français peut-être – mais c’est tout. Désolé!
What do you enjoy most about writing?
The humbling thought that an idea that occurs to me – possibly on the toilet – might one day become an actual book that someone else might actually want to read! Possibly on the toilet.
Do you have ideas for your next book?
Yes! Most of them are 100% brilliant, except the one about the cupboard that dreams of going on an adventure … but then doesn’t. That one needs some work.
Will you use any of our ideas in your next book?
Are they all brilliant? They’re all 100% brilliant, right? In which case yes, but only if I can take all the credit and horde all the riches and eat all the eggs and cheese myself.
Do you like reading your own books?
Well, by the time a book goes to print I’ve read, re-read, checked and combed its hair so many times that I’m not usually in the mood to read it again. Plus there are a lot of books out there that I haven’t read and didn’t write! But I do enjoy reading my books aloud at school events and festivals.
Why did you start to write children’s stories?
The voices in my head told me too. Also, as my wife will tell you and my toy collection proves, I’m still about 8 years old in my head, so it was a comfy fit…
Phew! I’m off for a long lie-down. But not in the swimming pool, this time. That was a bad idea. Not as bad as the cupboard who dreams of going on an adventure … but then doesn’t. But still pretty bad.
E-speak to you soon, Year 3! And have yourselves a DINGLE DANGLE!
(That’ll make sense when you get further through the book…)
Heading over to Mile Oak now – here’s class 6L with their book Perijee and Me by Ross Montgomery.
Dear Miss Liddle and 6L,
Well here it is – my first proper email to your class! I think I’ll start by answering some of your questions!
Did you base Perijee on anyone or anything and how did you come up with the name? (Lauren and Amelia)
As far as I know, Perijee isn’t based on anyone or anything I know – I know that sounds like an odd answer, but sometimes it takes me ages to work out that I’ve based a character on something! For example, it took me a while to realise the character of Frank was based on a friend of mine called Rael who sadly passed away before the book was finished – if you look at the front of the book you’ll see I’ve dedicated it to him. Fun fact: in the first draft of PERIJEE & ME, the alien wasn’t called Perijee – he was called Parsec! However my editor told me that was rubbish and that everyone in the sales meeting had laughed at it, so I had to change it. Boooooo! A parsec is a measurement of distance in space – how far light can travel in 3.25 years. This is roughly 19 million-MILLION miles! (That’s 12 zeroes!)Why did you choose a pineapple? (Lauren)
Because it is the best fruit. Obviously. This is a lie – in the first draft of PERIJEE & ME, the opening scene started with a drawing Caitlin had made of her family and her describing it. I’ve actually found the scene and attached it to this email – have a look and see if you can notice any differences between the first draft and the finished book! There was also a whole deleted scene in the first draft which showed Caitlin having a horrible time at her end of term party. I wanted to show how she stood out from the other children and didn’t fit in – so while everyone else bought crisps and sandwiches, Caitlin brought a pineapple but nothing to cut it with. My editor said the scene was too sad and I should cut it out.
What inspired you to write Perijee and me, a book about friendship? (Nayeema)
This is a very good question! I think when I started writing it, I didn’t realise I was making a book about friendship – I thought I was writing about a lonely girl who wanted to look after something. However, the more I worked on the book, the more I realised that the book should show how important friendship is – how you can make a connection between you and someone else, no matter how different they may seem. This happens a lot with writing a book – you start out thinking it’s about one thing, but then it changes into something else. Just like Perijee! The original inspiration for PERIJEE & ME is a very strange story – but that’s a tale for another time…
What made you think of the name Caitlin and not something else? Is she based on someone you know? (Brooke)
Caitlin is based primarily on a girl I used to teach. I won’t say her name as that wouldn’t be fair! She was a very sunny and kind and enthusiastic, but she struggled at school and you could see how hard she found it. I was very touched by the fact that even when she found learning difficult, she never gave up – and she always fought to stay positive even when it must have been very sad for her. She was an inspiration! Fun fact: in the first draft of PERIJEE & ME, there was a whole scene where Caitlin explains how much she hates her name because no one ever spells it right. She’s made to write her name on the board but spells it wrong, gets flustered, tries to sound it out and confuses herself – then when the teacher shouts at her she writes I HAIT SPELING on the board and throws the teacher’s sandwich out the window.
What made you think of the name Perijee? (Louis)
After my editor told me to change the name from Parsec, I had to look at a lot of different options – I wanted a name that Caitlin would have taken from her astrobiologist father, so I got researching and started looking up astrophysics terms – here’s a good selection!
I looked up the names of stars, names of constellations, names of NASA space missions and astronauts, names of animals who have been sent into space… I must have looked at hundreds until I found the right one! Other possible options were:
As you can see, they were all rubbish. I eventually came across “perigee” – this is the word for when the moon gets closest to earth in its orbit. This happens once a month – the point where it’s farthest away is called the “apogee”. If it happens to be a full moon during a perigee, we get a “supermoon”! It normally gets mentioned in the news because it means the moon looks massive and beautiful, like this:
Fun fact: The next supermoon is apparently due on May 25th, 2017 – look out for it! However the biggest supermoon of the whole CENTURY will be on December 6th, 2052. I will be 65 years old when this happens – feel free to message me on my floating millionaire’s astropad on the tenth moon of Jupiter.
I hope you found those answers helpful. One of the things you might have noticed is how many times I mentioned something was different in my first draft – this is going to be an important theme in my correspondence with you! I completely rewrote PERIJEE & ME about ten times before I was happy with it – and the same will be true of every single book you know and love. Rewriting and editing is invaluable to writing – no one ever, EVER gets it right on their first try. You can always go back and make it better!
With that in mind, Ross set about giving 6L their first task…
I want you to focus on the very first chapter – a nice short one! Have a go re-reading it as a class if that helps. I wrote this chapter to create a little bit of a mystery, and make the reader want to find out more about Perijee. You might have found it a bit of a shock when it suddenly said he grew fingers, for example!
In order to help the reader visualise Perijee, I used two SIMILES to describe him – can you find them? Why do you think I compared Perijee to these things? What do you think is the point of using similes?
(I’ve written what I think the answer is at the bottom of this email – you might disagree!)
Then, I’d like you to use similes to describe different parts of it – its eyes, its teeth, its hair, its nails, its skin, its arms…
REMEMBER: if your alien is scary, then you should compare it to things that are scary!
GOOD EXAMPLE: The alien’s eyes were as red as erupting volcanoes.
BAD EXAMPLE: The alien’s eyes were as red as nice tasty tomatoes.
Let me know how you get on – I’m looking forward to seeing some beautiful pieces of descriptive writing!
Have a lovely rest of the week and speak soon,
I think similes are often used because they put an image in your head. No one knows what a shape-shifting alien looks like, but pretty much everyone knows what a candle looks like. So if I describe Perijee as “like a candle in a jar”, the first thing in your head is a glowing candle – as a writer, this is how you can make a reader see what’s in your own imagination!
Here are some great examples of simple similes:
Mr Gum: “Mr Gum was a fierce old man with a red beard and two bloodshot eyes that stared out at you like an octopus curled up in a bad cave.”
Harry Potter: “An old man was standing before them, his wide pale eyes shining like moons through the gloom of the shop.”
And here’s a more advanced example of how similes, metaphors and personification can be used to turn something you probably haven’t seen before – a school burning down! – into something you can imagine just by cleverly placing images in your head:
Cider With Rosie: “Then the schoolhouse chimney caught on fire. A fountain of sparks shot high into the night, writhing and sweeping on the wind, falling and dancing along the road. The chimney hissed like a firework, great rockets of flame came gushing forth.. yellow jets of smoke belched from cracks in the chimney.”
Ross left the class with a genius task for next week – to come up with their very own alien! We look forward to hearing about 6L’s awesome other worldly creatures!
And now popping over to see what Carden’s been up to – ah, I see Rob Lloyd Jones posed some interesting questions to Year 6!