Unfortunately it’s impossible for me to reply individually to everyone so what I’ve done is written a personal letter to the class and selected a few questions to answer here. These are some I’ve chosen from Y6. Y5 to follow. Here goes:
Question 1 from Harry Cammack:
‘Did you think you would be successful when you started writing?’
No way! When I began I was simply writing for myself; I never intended to become published. What happened was I attended a few short creative writing courses when I was on maternity leave. However, I never thought the jottings and bits of rubbish I produced on them would lead anywhere. I just enjoyed writing. But the more I wrote, the more hooked I became. I began to write longer pieces. People began telling me that my writing was interesting and to send it off (to publishers and radio stations who aired new writing) which I did. Of course, most of it was rejected. I had very nice rejection letters, though, giving me tips on improving my work. Finally I sent a few stories, including half a book, to an agent. The agent liked my style and asked me to finish the book. The book became Vicious Circle.
Vicious Circle published in 1998 by OUP selected as one of Book Trust’s Top 100 books of the year
Question 2 – on writing tips
‘I like writing but struggle on my tenses.’ – Rebecca Wilson
‘How do I make my punctuation better?’ – Christopher Wilson
‘To be a writer do you have to be good at reading and spelling? – Zoe Faultless
I’ve put all three questions together because they are about the craft of writing. One of the things I tell children when I go into schools is that, even if you are a poor speller or your handwriting is dreadful, it doesn’t stop you being a writer. Before teachers start throwing things at me, I hastily add that these things are important but they’re not crucial. Take spelling. There are many writers who can’t spell for toffee; either because they are dyslexic or because they’re simply poor at it. Yet it doesn’t mean they are bad writers – far from it. They still have that X factor – that something in their style of writing that makes them stand out from the crowd. Some well-known children’s writers who are dyslexic include:
In reply to Rebecca who struggles with her tenses and Chris on punctuation, I say these are things that become easier as you get older. Ask your teacher for extra help if you need it. The same goes for Zoe’s question about spelling. All these things – tenses, punctuation and spelling – have rules to follow. English is difficult in that it has 26 letters and more than 40 sounds but learn the rules and you’ll be OK.
To be a writer do you have to be ‘good’ at reading – Zoe’s other question – is harder to answer. I’d say yes – not only do you have to be able to read but you also need to enjoy reading. If you don’t enjoy reading there’s no point in writing creatively. I mean – why would you want to?
Question 3 from Finley Dickinson: Why did you stop being a teacher and become a writer instead?
Well, I taught for a long time. I taught in primary and secondary schools and I would never have become a writer if I hadn’t been a teacher first. Through teaching I tapped into this creative side of me by making up short stories for my classes, reading out loud, writing short plays and so on. Somehow those things because my favourite thing to do in the classroom and the other stuff didn’t interest me as much. Sadly, the government won’t let teachers read to kids all day so I had to give up – for my sake and that of my pupils’ maths, science and IT!
Lots of writers were teachers once, as I’ve mentioned before. Most famously, Roddy Doyle, Celia Rees, Michael Morpurgo, Rose Impey and Philip Pullman.
Question 4 from Millie: Have you ever got inspiration for things other than from newspapers?
For sure. Newspapers are a great source of information but then so are lots of other things. Inspiration strikes at the most unlikely times and in the most unlikely places. An overheard snippet of conversation on a bus; an ordinary event such as driving to the supermarket in the rain; watching your daughter play football or your son in a school play. Seeing a leaf fall from a tree. Anything – everything. The whole of life is inspiring.
the whole of life is inspiring