WRITING FEATURE Inspirational & Interesting Facts from Authors

As another year draws to a close, Natalie Yates takes a look at some inspirational tales from authors, and interesting questions from their audience

As Philip Pullman once said, ‘We don’t need lists of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts, we need books, time and silence. Thou Shalt Not is soon forgotten, but Once Upon a Time lasts forever.’


And at times it can seem like the path to publication is forever, but wherever you are on the journey, here are some words of encouragement to inspire and make you smile along the way.


Ideas for stories can come from the weirdest moments, as found Colleen Cailin Jones, when having to deliver a story on the spot while dragging two very tired and cranky kids up a trail, she told them the story of Dandelion Dan, revising and playing with it as they went. It may never have been published, but it was her first complete children’s story.


A friend of mine also revealed how, when feeling tired and struggling to find the energy to read to his children, he would make up adventure stories with them as the main protagonists where they would be called upon by one of their heroes to solve a mystery or rescue someone in peril.


Other writers take inspiration from daily walks, Maria Oliver, for example, who looks for the small details in nature during those mindful moments. Similarly, Claire Walmsley, who keeps a Pinterest board of photos she takes during her walks, was inspired one day to write Stanley the Short-Tailed Squirrel. But I wonder where this picture took her imagination… 


Credit: Claire Walmsley


It is clear that the path to completing a story takes buckets of perseverance, as revealed Sarah J Dodd, whose first request for a full was for a story about slugs, but it took another 17 years and about 13 more novels before one was accepted for publication. Also, as she started out on her journey, she discovered that ‘bringing something to share’ to a writers’ group perhaps didn’t involve cookies, but an extract of her work. 


Jenny Moore once had a request for a full, only to wait four years before the agent finally rejected it. But even after parting company with a different agent, she persisted with the art and has since published 13 novels and counting. 


Once published, the journey can take on a different trajectory – the world of school visits. Coming face to face with your audience can seem somewhat daunting, but also fulfilling, as Maria Oliver reveals how satisfying it is when your words, when spoken aloud can have exactly the right effect – her yoga book can calm the liveliest of children. Or as Clare Helen Welsh happily reported about a child pointing excitedly at one of her books, ‘I’ve read that book! I’ve got that book at home!’ 


Yet, these moments can sometimes be particularly painful. Barbara Henderson was asked once ‘Did that hurt?’ after an exceptionally tense reading, she had fallen backwards over a crate of books and lay in a mess of smashed plastic in front of 200 kids. 😟

Many an author may come to regret the time at the end of their presentation when they ask if anyone has any questions. From one confused child who questioned Robin Jarvis 

Why aren’t you wearing author clothes?

to a money-minded student wondering how much more Tom Huddleston’s book would be worth once he'd signed it, to another child pondering where Gabrielle Kent would go in a zombie apocalypse. (Answer: Edinburgh Castle – apparently it has excellent defences and vantage points, with barracks, weapon stores and cafes – worth bearing in mind).


But this journey we are all on, some at different stages, will always bring us face to face with failure. As JK Rowling says:

This is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default. 

Therefore, from the words of Malorie Blackman, ‘When life knocks you down, keep getting up.’ And don’t ever stop 'watching the world with glittering eyes, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’ (Roald Dahl)


So, as one child once asked Clare Helen Welsh, ‘Why are you still here?’ Sit that bum in that chair and get writing!


Feature picture credit: Sara Netherway

Natalie Yates has been a SCBWI member since 2015 and is Networks Coordinator for the North East. When she is not working as a teaching assistant for a local secondary school, she spends her time writing for YA and sometimes on Instagram or Twitter.

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