Ali Sparkes and a Sparkling Talk at the Local Library

ali sparkes out of this worldI’ve just seen the fabulous Ali Sparkes give a talk at our local library and….WOW! That’s how an author talk should be done!

Ali writes for children, and she was funny, informative, and engaging. I won’t give away her ‘trade secrets’, but she has quite a few clever props, some for fun, some to illustrate her points, and a final magician’s trick for the end of the talk, which brought some real gasps from her audience.

I might have to make library visits one day, (though I’d have to finish a book first!) so here’s what I picked up from Ali’s talk.

  • Engage the audience in the first few minutes. Ali had us responding to cue cards straight away, and it really got us in the mood.
  • Keep the audience involved. Ali asked questions, she called people up to help, and she used props throughout the talk to keep us interested.
  • Choice of readings. Ali chose a couple of really fun passages from her books, and these were spread out in the talk, but gave a real insight into what to expect if we read her stories. She put a lot of expression into it, but I suspect she’s a natural performer!
  • Be funny. Well, there again, you’re either funny or you’re not – but it certainly helps!
  • End on a high. The magician’s trick. We were ALL impressed, mums and dads too!

And what about writing advice? The talk was aimed at children, but the main message is clear. Don’t give up. Her work was rejected for years, but she kept writing and submitting. She got close a few times, only to be rejected at the last minute, but she kept writing. She was finally published in 2006, and has written 40 books since then!

We’ve never read her books, but on the basis of this talk, I think we’ve missed out. We bought ‘Out of this World’  yesterday, and now that it’s signed, my daughters can fight over who gets to read it first.

The talk was part of the summer reading challenge, which we’ve always taken, but this year… well, to be honest, the girls read longer books now, and the reading challenge would be a bit like Nanowrimo – all about quantity rather than quality. I’m sure they could pick six books to read, but they’d be chosen for their brevity to meet the six week deadline. I’d rather they read a few ‘bigger’ books slowly.

This is the third author talk I’ve attended at the library, and though I’m an aspiring writer I’ve never hovered around afterwards to ask insightful questions, or chat with the ‘proper’ author.  (Actually, I think there were two ‘proper’ authors in the room, I think I spotted Kate Kelly, in the audience, who’s blog I’ve followed for a while.)

I didn’t hover around for a chat this time either, I wish I was the sort of person who could do that though – just walk up and introduce myself, and start chatting about the writing process.

But is that the right thing to do? What’s the social etiquette for collaring authors after talks? Should you save that for conferences?

What do you think?


Recommendation – a great post about freeing up your internal editor

free your internal editorDoes your inner editor hold you back with all its comments and criticisms? Mine never shuts up, and it’s hard to ignore, but then….

I was a few days behind on my Google Reader, and I just came across this post on Janice Hardy’s site which really spoke to me. It’s by guest author Amy Butler Greenfield, who suggests you give your inner editor a sheet of paper or a separate document to record all its little gripes and groans.

I love this idea! Because if I let the nagging creature speak its piece, perhaps it will settle down while I carry on scribbling.

Worth a try?


The Cabinet of Curiosities – and why you should be reading it.

cabinet from Harry Potter shop

Look, I’ve been following this blog The Cabinet of Curiosities for several weeks now, and I just had to write this.

Every week, the four Curators (authors) post a story, and their imaginations and creativity will amaze. If you like children’s fiction, check it out. If you like things a bit dark, and creepy, and imaginative, and magical – check it out.

Seriously. Click the link.

My favourite stories from each of the Curators so far:

Quicksilver and the Stranger – wonderful and unusual witchy tale by Claire Legrand

Johnny Knockers – a whale tale, but so weird and strange, by Stefan Bachmann

Lucky, lucky girl – but she’s not a very nice girl!  by Katherine Catmull

Fairy Cakes – and very creepy little fairies they are, too, by Emma Trevayne

There. Cheerleading over.

Head on over to their blog and you’ll see what I’m raving about.


Scrivener – my best writing buddy

scrivenerPlotter or Pantser, sooner or later I reckon you could do with Scrivener.

Plotters plot, and Scrivener lets you plot with a Corkboard feature, which has little index cards that you drag around. Each card represents a scene or chapter or chunk of your writing, and if you move it around, that chunk of writing moves around seamlessly in your manuscript. Magical.

Pantsers ….pant(?) well, no, they don’t. Pantsers do things by the seat of their pants, like me, but that way chaos lies. Chaos is messy, much like my housekeeping skills (so I guess there’s a bit of a clue there), but you can’t live in chaos forever. Well – I can’t. And that’s where Scrivener comes in.

My messy manuscript got loaded into Scrivener a while ago, split into scenes, colour coded (yes there are many opportunities to play and procrastinate with this software), and is now more manageable and even has a structure.

I’d been using the Index card method  suggested by Alexandra Sokoloff, and it made a lot of sense – but so unwieldy!

I even took a photo of my index cards. Who’s got space for all that on their wall?

plotting using index cards

The only drawback to Scrivener so far? My computer is terminally slow, and Scrivener is quite a hungry beast, so things don’t happen nearly as quickly as I’d like them to. Plumber Husband is working on moving all our data up into the ether, so the speed problems might be sorted out. Or is that the wrong sort of memory? Tut, tut, completely clueless.

And talking of procrastination, Scrivener  can randomly generate some pretty cool names too, which is always worth a play. These are Scandinavian/Swedish.

scrivener name generator, random name generator

It’s available for Mac or PC, and like any new software, there’s a steep learning curve, but you can skip through the tutorial to find the bits you need, I don’t use all the features anyway.  The Corkboard is so easy to use,  you can just jump right in after the tutorial and start moving those scenes wherever you want.

And the best bit – there’s a free 30 day trial, which is any 30 days, so why not give it a go?  Let me know what you think of it.



Nano towel throw

It’s official. I’m throwing in the towel.

pink towel on black floor
It’s November 30th tomorrow, the final day of Nanowrimo, and my word count stands at a little over 30,000 words.
That’s a Nano fail.
I feel kind of bad about it.
I was so sure I could make it happen – I even wrote a rather boastful (in retrospect ) post about how I could handle everything family life threw at me and still make that word count.
How little did I know.
My Nano novel started out like this….

See that lovely clear path.
Straight as an arrow.
But, oh yes – up on the horizon there – see that? That’s right. A great big, tangled, old wood – all dark and forbidding.
And that’s what my nice, clear cut little Nano novel did to me – turned all dark and nasty and tangled.
I couldn’t make sense of it. Characters were rushing here and there with no clue what was going on, and speaking atrocious dialogue while they were doing it. My healthy 1,700 words a day habit was under attack. The manuscript was all CAPS LOCK, which is my way of adding a note mid- write.
Yikes. There was no write. It was all NOTE MID-WRITE.
But I ploughed on. Just slower.
I guess that’s ok.
It feels like a fail, but there are 30,000 words of a new novel sitting on my hard drive that didn’t exist a month ago.
I’m not giving up on it. I’ll probably finish by Christmas. And then I’ll hide it in a drawer until I can bear to look at it again.
Kristen Lamb has a great and inspiring post called Nanowhat now where she talks about exercising self discipline. Basically – small steps and build on it. Nanowrimo by its very nature flies in the face of that good advice. You need big steps, and lots of them, to make 50,000 words in a month.
If I learnt anything in November, it’s that I’m not ready for big steps yet. But little steps, five days a week?
That I can manage.
How about you?
Are you a Nano winner? What does that feel like? And are you happy with what you’ve written?