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Q&A on Writing hosted by Helen Morley

Q:  Why did you start writing?

A: Because I felt I had something to say. I was especially concerned at the lack of diversity in children’s literature – starting at the earliest age, and I felt that with my Anglo-Indian background, and experience and interest in multiculturalism, this was something I could address.

I also loved writing – and did for my own pleasure. So, I usually answer the question by saying, I had always written, ever since early childhood, but the question was: ‘when did I want to be published?’  That was the crucial question?

Q:  Which type of writing do you prefer, eg plays/scripts/stories?

A: I love it all. I love story telling. I often find that one genre leaps out for a particular topic about which I’m writing, but I really do love anything that involves storytelling, in whatever genre.

Q: Is “community” more important than “self”?  Does “community” make the artist? 

A: Some artists find that self-expression is the most important thing, and that if anyone else is prepared to listen, then that’s a bonus. But such an artist might starve in an attic, rather than compromise writing for either the community or the market or any other commissioning body. I have known writers and poets who wrote all their lives, in hopes of being published, but not being successful. One in particular was happy to accept his failure in his lifetime, but prepared to believe in his “posthumous” reputation.

Other artists – especially storytellers – and I mean ‘storyteller’ in its broadest sense, may need an audience: people who want to listen to you, or people who you think will love listening to you; people who will benefit from listening to you.  Because I write for children and young adults, it is very important to me, that I feel they are listening. We writers often have an agenda: like the BBC pledge: to entertain, educate and inform.  All of those things involve storytelling and communication with the community.  Many of us feel that we want to communicate with community. The question is: at what price?

There is often a clash between what I think I want my audience to hear, and what the ’market’ thinks the audience wants to hear – which equates to – how many books can they sell?  So, it becomes a choice and a compromise for the writer. Only you can make that choice.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring children’s writer?

A: Think about why you want to write for children? Have you ever told stories to children? Do you like them as an audience? Do you feel you understand the things that make them laugh or cry?  Touch their imagination? Things that make them THINK?  Even the Gruffalo will make you think: (and educate, entertain and inform.)

If you are really aspiring to write for children, and want to be published, I would always recommend that you go into a library or bookshop, and see what is being written, and how. Writing is not just a flash of inspiration, but also a craft which, like most things, has to be learned. There is the old adage: creativity is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. You have to be prepared to work.

I often get sent manuscripts of wonderful stories by aspiring writers, whose ideas flow across the page, but without a sense of how it will be read by a very savvy agent /publisher who is basically looking for what will connect to the market and sell. In early children’s books, you’d be surprised to know there are real formulas and formats that certainly, to begin with, you should study and imitate or learn from. Don’t forget that, in the children’s book world, it is adults who publish the books, and usually adults who buy the books.  

So, my last advice would be to LOVE writing; have tenacity, focus and a sense of adventure. It’s like swimming. You can love just swimming round and round in a swimming pool, or you can swim out into the ocean and discover the unknown.

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