Friday, 28 November 2014

Writing for Children - Tip 24 #writetip

Children use sarcasm to each other all the time. They hear it in films and on television, and then transfer their favourite characters’ expressions into their own way of speaking.

They’ll sigh and roll their eyes and tell their friends the most outrageous things, knowing the sarcasm will be picked up on and understood.

Because of this, you would be forgiven for thinking that they would easily realise when someone in a novel is using sarcasm, but this is not the case.

Tip 24 – How to Use Sarcasm

Children read exactly what is on the page and take the meaning literally, unless there are sufficient signals to the contrary.

Irony and sarcasm have to be clearly signposted so that your young readers are aware that the words are being used in a sarcastic way.

When you want your characters to be sarcastic it is necessary to show the personality of the speaker from the outset.

It isn’t going to work very well if someone who has been meek and mild all the way through the book suddenly becomes the queen of the one-liners halfway into the story.

On the other hand, it is perfectly acceptable to have a character who has been too timid to speak up throughout the novel, finally find the courage at the very end of the book to make one glorious put down directed at his or her impotent enemy.

If you decide to include sarcasm in your novel you must remember to signpost it well and use it sparingly.

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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Is it worth celebrating?

A reader from Huddersfield, who asked not to be named, was recently long listed in an international competition, but she wasn’t sure if it was something she should celebrate. She writes: when I saw my name on a long list for a flash fiction competition, I was really excited, but one of my writing friends said that was probably just the list of all those who’d entered. Is that the way competitions work?

Obviously, I cannot answer for every competition around the world, but it is generally accepted that a long list is made up of the best of the entries after the first (and sometimes second) round of judging.

As I know which competition you entered and were long listed for, I can categorically state that the long list was decided by a team of readers who waded through hundreds and hundreds of entries before picking a long list of stories to put forward for the next stage of judging.

I think, possibly, your writing friend might be suffering a little from the green-eyed monster. Celebrate your appearance on the long list – it is hard to get through the initial stages of judging in any competition. To do so in one where the entry count is so high is an achievement indeed.

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Friday, 21 November 2014

Writing for Children - Tip 23 #writetip

As mentioned in the previous tip, generally children have an extremely low boredom threshold. They want action in their books and not history, geography, or any other type of lesson – not even on subjects that are otherwise exciting.

Tip 23 – Mama Don’t Teach

Let’s say your story is about time travel and your young heroes find themselves back in the middle-ages. Clearly they’ll be wearing the wrong clothes and will have all sorts of adventures.

Don’t be tempted to write long passages on what everyone wore back then – your readers won’t care, they’ll just want to know what happens next in the story. Your audience only needs to be told about medieval clothing as it affects your story.

Let’s take the same tale a little further and have our time travellers landing in France, or some other European destination. As with the clothing, your readers only need to know about the country’s language and geography where it impacts on the characters in your story.

If your time travellers land in a mystical world where everyone can use magic except them, the same rules apply. Show the reader what the magic can do, but don’t bore them to tears with a lesson on how it works.

The exception is when understanding the workings of magic is essential to the story, but do try to keep the lesson short and introduce it through action and dialogue.

Then we come to the time travelling machine itself. Describe what it looks like by all means, but don’t go overboard with long narrative passages about shiny chrome panels and levers.

If it is going to break down and leave your travellers stranded, or a second one has to be built for some reason, give some details about the mechanics, but only what is essential to make the story work.

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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Getting to know … Lisa Tenzin-Dolma

What genre would you say your novels fall into, or do they defy classification?
At the moment they fall into two genres. The Swan Lake is classed as contemporary fiction, and the Lainey Morgan books, starting with Lainey’s Lot, are Young Adult, though the Lainey books could be considered as crossover books.

What made you choose that genre?
It wasn’t a deliberate choice. The main characters popped into my head and refused to leave, and they led the storylines. Astarte, from The Swan Lake and Lainey from the YA books are both quirky, eccentric people and their stories naturally took on a darkly funny, dramatic tone.

How long does it take you to write a book?
Usually around three months, but with the Lainey books I started the first one about 8 years ago, set it aside halfway through to write rather a lot of commissioned non-fiction books, and only went back to it and finished it this year.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I start early, take breaks to walk my dogs (and walking often clears my mind, too), set some time aside for assessing coursework from my canine behaviour students in the afternoon, usually finish writing early evening, and then catch up on mail until about 9pm. While I’m immersed in the story I tend to lose track of time, though, so often end up writing late into the night.

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
With fiction, mostly the ideas come to me out of the blue, starting with a character and expanding from there, though I have a couple of new novels on the go that started with a question: What if? This then sparked off a whole storyline.

The Swan Lake came about when a friend who was an Intensive Care nurse came to stay. We had a lot more wine than I’m used to and were laughing about some crazy things that had happened when I lived in the depths of the country in Ireland, throwing ideas back and forth about how my friend (a city dweller) would have coped with going back to nature. That gave me the idea for Astarte’s character, and the next morning I woke up with the whole story in my mind. It bugged me until I wrote it down, and the book was written very quickly. started the first Lainey book when my daughter, Amber, was 13 years old, and it was great fun getting into the mind of an adolescent girl – all those dramas! Amber’s nothing like Lainey, but funnily enough life imitated art, in a way, because when I was halfway through writing the book Amber started going out with a boy who was remarkably like Kieran, Lainey’s boyfriend in the first book – even to his looks and musical talent! They both found that hilarious.

With non-fiction, the books develop through what I’m particularly interested in and would like to read books about. I love doing research and sharing ideas and knowledge!

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote my first book when I was 13. We lived in Malaysia at the time, and my class in school had to do a history project on London in 1665/1666. It was the time of the Great Plague, so for my project I wrote a novel about a girl who lived through that. It won me a prize at school but I wouldn’t have dreamed of sending it to a publisher.

My first published book was a non-fiction book called The Dolphin Experience. That came out in 1992, when I was 38.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I spend as much time as possible with my family, friends and my two dogs, and I do a lot of teaching work, which I love. I’m principal of The International School for Canine Practitioners, teaching dog psychology and behaviour to students all over the world, and I also run the Dog Welfare Alliance, a non-profit organisation that brings together professionals and the public and supports rescue centres globally.

I read a lot, in all genres, and there’s always a very varied pile of books on my coffee table. I play guitar, too, though not as much as I used to. 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
How a story can completely take over your mind for the time it takes to write a book! This week I put a tongue-in-cheek post on Facebook about how chocolate can help the creative flow for me, and this set off a discussion with some author and screenwriter friends about how the characters in a story become very real while we’re writing about them. As one friend so aptly put it, it’s exhilarating and exhausting, and I agree – to really enter that world we’re creating, we need to tune in and live inside each character’s head (the unlikeable ones, as well as the likeable ones). They take on lives of their own.

How many books have you written?
I’ve had 22 books published, with another four books coming out next year: three of those are fiction and one’s non-fiction.

Which is your favourite and why?
That’s such a tough question to answer – it’s like asking me which one of my five children is my favourite! I can’t choose. Each book is different and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing all of them. Plus, fiction writing is totally different to non-fiction. With fiction I’m entering an imaginary world (that seems very real at the time), whereas while I’m writing non-fiction I think about what readers need to know about a subject, and how to make that interesting as well as informative.

The most deeply personal book I’ve written is Charlie: The Dog Who Came in from the Wild, which will be out through Hubble & Hattie in August 2015. It tells the story of how I rehabilitated a one-eyed Romanian born-in-the-wild feral dog who had never mixed with humans or dogs outside his social group before his capture. The book covers Charlie’s first 18 months with us, and described how I helped him overcome his many fears and become a fully integrated, much loved member of our family. It was an intense journey for all of us. I’d kept a journal throughout, so it was fascinating for me to sift through so many memories and remind myself of the extraordinary transformation that Charlie’s gone through.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
A writer!

What are you working on now?
I’m working on another Lainey novel, and have several more books on the back burner.

Lisa Tenzin-Dolma is the author of over 20 books, principal of The International School for Canine Practitioners, and founder of the Dog Welfare Alliance. She has five children and two dogs, and lives in a small village near Bath, UK.


List of titles
- Charlie: The Dog Who Came in from the Wild (Hubble & Hattie, 2015)
- Lainey’s Lot. Accent Press. (two more Lainey books to come in 2015)
- The Heartbeat at Your Feet: A Practical, Compassionate New Way to Train Your Dog. Rowman & Littlefield
- Dog Training: The Essential Guide. Need2Know Books.
- Adopting a Rescue Dog. Phoenix Rising Press
- Mind & Motivation: The Spirit of Success. Phoenix Rising Press
- The Swan Lake. Phoenix Rising Press (to be republished by Accent Press 2015)
- Mandala Source Book (with David Fontana). Watkins Publishing.
- Natural Mandalas. Duncan Baird Publishers.
- Healing Mandalas. Duncan Baird Publishers.
- The Mandala Colouring Kit. Duncan Baird Publishers.
- The Celtic Mandala Colouring Kit. Duncan Baird Publishers.
- Celtic Mandalas Colouring Book. Watkins.
- Buddhist Mandalas Colouring Book. Watkins.
- Healing Mandalas Colouring Book. Watkins.
- 3D Mandalas. Watkins.
- Take Control with Astrology. Hodder Education.
- Teach Yourself Astrology. Hodder Education. McGraw-Hill.
- Understanding the Planetary Myths. Quantum/Foulsham.
- A-Z of Dreaming. Igloo Books.
(Also published by Igloo as Understanding Your Dreams and Dreams & Dreaming)
- The Glastonbury Tarot. Papaveria Press.
- Swimming with Dolphins. Foulsham.
- The Dolphin Experience. Foulsham.

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Monday, 17 November 2014

Help! My novel's too long! #writetip

Veronica from Marbella has a problem with her novel being too long: I’ve been told by many people (and seen it on countless websites) that publishers won’t look at debut novels that are too long. I’ve been told mine, a story set in the days of the French Resistance, should be between 70,000 and 90,000 words. I’m only about two-thirds of the way into it and it’s already over 85,000 words. What should I do? Should I cut out one of the characters? Change the plot slightly? Take out one of the subplots? Please help, because I can’t bear the thought of spending all this time writing a book and then being told it’s too long to be published.

First of all, the thing to bear in mind about word count guidelines is that is all they are – guidelines. If a stunning novel landed on an agent or publisher’s desk that they simply couldn’t put down, there is no way it would be rejected as being too long, even if it was well over the standard word count!

Secondly, you have said yourself that you haven’t even finished the book yet, so there is no way of knowing what should be cut, if anything.

A first draft is just a way of getting your thoughts and ideas down on paper. When you go through your first rewrite you will automatically cut sentences, paragraphs, maybe even entire scenes, because they don’t fit. You may find that you have two or three minor players who could be morphed into one stronger character, which again would affect the word count.

On second, third, fourth and fifth drafts, you’ll tighten dialogue, cut out all the padding and unnecessary adjectives and adverbs.

By the time your novel is ready to be sent anywhere, it will be a much smoother, sleeker beast than the one you are currently wrestling with. Get the words down and leave the worries about length and publishing needs until you’ve polished your baby so that it gleams. If it does that, no one will care if it’s a few thousand words more than the guidelines say it should be.

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