My first book was published twenty-two years ago, and since then I've written a good many more. Could I teach others how to do it, though? Is how to write for children even teachable? I've always been one who says that there are no rules for writing - only what works. Preparing for a whole day workshop taught me otherwise. There are rules - the trick is how each individual chooses to interpret them. Thinking about how to get over the salient points of how to plot, write dialogue, create convincing characters and build credible worlds, plan story arcs, show not tell and all the other tricks of the writing trade, made me really focus in on what makes a children's book great instead of ordinary. It also made me realise how much I have actually learned in all those writing years (thankfully, quite a lot, in case you were wondering).
The wide spread of professions and ages who signed up to be taught surprised me. Their enthusiasm heartened me. What saddened and slightly depressed me, though, was that almost none had read any children's book later than Roald Dahl, even the ones who had children of their own. They'd just about heard of Philip Pullman, because of the film of his book, but they had no idea that The Hunger Games was a book first. None of them had even heard of Meg Rosoff or Patrick Ness, or Marcus Sedgwick or Sally Gardner, even though they are some of the biggest names in UK children's books right now, and they had no idea that Malorie Blackman is our present Children's Laureate. Still, as with any class, you work with what you have - and they've all gone away with a long list of current books to look out for. I hope at least some will use it to their advantage, along with my advice to read, read, read - the ones who really want to be writers, anyway. Because that was another surprising thing I discovered. Not everyone who comes to a Guardian Masterclass actually wants to go away and write a book. Some are just there for the experience, and I think that's fine. As long as everyone enjoys themselves and takes away a bit of useful knowledge at the end of the day, I've done my job.
So, what are the five most important things I've learned from my Guardian Masterclass teaching experience?
First, that proper preparation is a key element to everyone's enjoyment, including mine.
Second, that a PowerPoint presentation is a thing of wonder, and, more practically, breaks up the talking bits.
Third, that writing exercises are a powerful tool for building confidence.
Fourth, that not everyone will ask questions, so having extra material to fill in unexpected gaps is good.
Fifth, that, as ever, chocolate is the way to a writing Masterclass's heart.
a whole weekend of children's writing and publishing, which will provide what we hope will be a fantastic opportunity to see both sides of the industry. Personally, I can't wait to do more teaching - and to be amazed at the unique ideas even people with no confidence in their own creative capabilities can come up with in a very short space of time, given just a spoonful of encouragement (and, of course, a good dose of chocolate).
Lucy's new picture book, Captain Beastlie's Pirate Party is coming soon from Nosy Crow!
Bear's Best Friend, is published by Bloomsbury "A charming story about the magic of friendship which may bring a tear to your eye" Parents in Touch "The language is a joy…thoughtful and enjoyable" Armadillo Magazine. "Coats's ebullient, sympathetic story is perfectly matched by Sarah Dyer's warm and witty illustrations." The Times
Her latest series for 7-9s, Greek Beasts and Heroes is out now from Orion Children's Books.
Lucy's Scribble City Central Blog (A UK Top 10 Children's Literature Blog)
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