15 Oct The Golden Egg Writing Process Questionnaire with Children’s Writer Anna Wilson
If you’ve been reading our blog for a while you’ll know that here at Golden Egg we love helping writers with talent write their best possible story. Our fascination with story means we’re always very interested in what writers have to say about their writing process.
Anna Wilson is the author of Summer’s Shadow, Quite simply a beautiful read. books4teens.co.uk as well as a whole host of much-loved animal novels for children, including The Poodle Problem, The Great Kitten Cake Off and the Top of the Pups series. Before becoming a writer Anna worked for Macmillan Children’s Books as a Picture Book Editor. Now she lives in peaceful Somerset with her family, cats, chickens and dog.
Thank you, Anna, for taking part.
Andrew Wright, currently mentored by Imogen Cooper
When did you know you wanted to write?
I think it was the minute I picked up a pen and started to make marks on the page. I have always had an overwhelming urge to fill notebooks. I have written a diary since I was six and was had a go at my first novel aged twelve.
What did you write first? Did you show it to anyone?
I wrote poems and little stories in huge desk diaries which my grandfather gave me once he had finished with them. I showed them to him and my grandma and she kept most of them. I found some pasted into a photo album after she died.
Who inspires you in your writing?
Other writers. When I am not writing, I am reading. This is the way it has always been. I met Roald Dahl at a Puffin Club Convention when I was about ten. From that day on, I knew I had to try and be a published writer.
What is your writing method? How do you go about making up the stories and crucially, finishing what you start?
I start by scribbling ideas in notebooks. Then I pace around a bit and avoid doing anything about the notes for as long as I can. Then, when it has built up into an unavoidable THING in my mind, I get out my laptop and start ‘for real’. I try to write a thousand words a day. Most of those thousand will be rubbish, but unless I sit and write something, the book will never emerge. I don’t plan. I write the scenes I most want to write and the story builds itself up around those scenes. Then I might plan once I can see a story taking shape. It’s a bit like carving an image out of a rough lump of rock. The final piece is in there somewhere, but I need to hack away for quite a while before it emerges in its final form. I do need a voice to get me going though, and that can often be the hardest thing to get right. Most of my stories come from this initial ‘voice’ or main character. Once I have got that sorted, I put other characters in to get some action going. From there I go on to develop scenes which might find their inspiration from real-life events or stories that other people have told me about themselves, their families, their pets etc. Did I say finding a voice was the hardest part? Scratch that: *finishing* is the hardest part! I am rubbish at endings. I have to work at them very hard, writing and rewriting. Sometimes I get hopelessly stuck in the middle of writing a book. When that happens, I try to write a scene that I know will happen much later in the plot, and sometimes that helps to move the story on – then I can go back and fill in the gaps
What are your writing habits?
I tend to write most days, unless I have a day with a lot of tutoring or school visits. If I have a clear day for writing, I start the day by taking my son to school, then I go for a run or a swim or take a yoga class. I aim to be at my desk, pencils sharpened and laptop on by 10am, ready to go. If it’s a good writing day, I tap and scribble away until 1pm when I break for something to eat. Then I continue at my desk until whatever time my son needs picking up. Once he is back home, I walk the dog and get supper ready. Sometimes I go back to my desk, if the Muse has me in her grasp. If not, I read. On a bad writing day the dog gets longer walks and much chocolate and coffee is consumed. And possibly a little bit of social networking is done…
How do you capture your ideas?
Wow. That is a tough question. I suppose I just keep on writing and writing until I know I have caught them on the page. Often an idea can seem wonderful when I am out running, for example, then I come to write it and it refuses to be pinned down in black and white. I don’t think there is anything magical about it, really. It is just hard graft. Keep at it, like the sculptor with her chisel again, until the idea is honed and shining and ready to be seen by the rest of the world
What is your worst writing moment?
That has to be when I am in the middle of writing a book: I am stuck, the plot has ground to a halt, my characters are not playing ball any more and I am CONVINCED I have written the worst thing the world has ever seen. That happens every time I am engaged in writing something new. And it never gets any easier to deal with
And what is your best?
When the words are flying from my brain to my fingers, I am ‘in the zone’ and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. (Doesn’t happen as often as the ‘getting stuck’ feeling, sadly.)
What are you working on right now?
I have just (today!) finished the final draft of a new Middle Grade book for Macmillan Children’s Books called ‘The Parent Problem’. It is a humorous family drama about growing up, losing friends and gaining them and being MORTIFYINGLY embarrassed about pretty much everything. It just *might* be based on how I felt aged thirteen, when mortifying things seemed to happen to me on a daily basis.
What are you working on next?
I have a few things on the go at the moment. I am in the middle of writing a book for slightly older readers, which is similar in style to my novel, ‘Summer’s Shadow’ that came out last year for ten to fourteen year olds. This new story, like ‘Summer’s Shadow’, is a family mystery. It is about identity and the things families cover up and hide from one another. I have plans for other books too, but they are not very developed yet
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of ‘Summer’s Shadow’ as it was a big departure from my younger Middle Grade titles which were all humorous books. It took three years to write and I learnt a lot about the process of novel-writing. I thought no one would publish it as I seemed to be known only for funny books, so it was a great day when Macmillan took it on
What books, ideas, inspirations have helped you in your writing process?
I have been hugely influenced by the books I loved reading as a child: Roald Dahl, Astrid Lindgren, Michael Bond’s Paddington, the Just William books, Snoopy cartoons, the Beano! All those books and comics have very much influenced my humorous stories. I also loved The Secret Garden, The Railway Children, I Capture the Castle and Carrie’s War – stories which explored the way family relationships worked. As an adult I still enjoy this kind of story. Nowadays I particularly enjoy Maggie O’Farrell’s work and Daphne Du Maurier’s psychological thrillers. I want to write more books in that vein – books that explore the way relationships work and the secrets that families keep from one another. As far as the writing process goes, I have enjoyed John Yorke’s ‘Into the Woods’ as an exploration of structure. I also like Kate Grenville’s ‘The Writing Book’ and I had fun using Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ – the exercises are very useful. Another favourite is Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ as it was so direct and honest about the life of a writer
Who do you read? And why?
I read such a vast range of stuff… I think it is important to read widely. I enjoy Ian McEwan and Hilary Mantel every bit as much as Andy Stanton and Alex T Smith! I read thrillers, mysteries, literary fiction, ‘women’s fiction’, children’s fiction – everything from picture books to YA – humorous stuff, non-fiction. Anything I can lay my hands on! I always tell students and school children that you cannot be a writer unless you are a reader first. I believe that passionately. You need to develop your critical faculties and expand your vocabulary and you can only do that by reading. You also do not have a hope of understanding how a novel or a poem or a short story works unless you have read as many of them as you possibly can.