I enjoy interviewing authors for Chandler’s Ford Today. I love finding out their top tips, how they work and what inspires them.
It was a joy then to meet local children’s author, Anne Wan, for tea, coffee and a chat at Bay Leaves Larder recently. Anne has a background in primary school teaching and her book Secrets of the Snow Globe: Vanishing Voices is now out (North Oak Press).
Anne is aiming for a Key Stage 2 readership (in terms of age, about 7 to 9, though children either side of that have enjoyed the book. Never be put off reading a children’s book, just because you’re not a child any more incidentally! The children’s writer will definitely not mind!).
I recently wrote about Why Children’s Fiction Matters and can’t emphasise enough how important children’s books are (including non-fiction aimed at them). All writers of adult fiction, including me, owe children’s writers a huge debt. Nobody just “comes into” reading. There is nearly always a lifelong love of reading which has been encouraged and nurtured, but to have that, there must be the great children’s books that have rightly gone down as classics in their own right.
One link Anne and I have in common is Barbara Large, MBE. I met Barbara many years ago when first going to the Winchester Writers’ Conference (as it was known then) and Anne met her at a local creative writing class. Both Anne and I can testify to how helpful Barbara has been (and continues to be) to new writers and to those starting out on their writing journey.
So, hello, Anne and I think a good place to start is to to summarise your book!
About Anne Wan and Secrets of The Snow Globe
Secrets of the Snow Globe: Vanishing Voices
“Jack was right. They were trapped inside the snow globe and it was all her fault. She turned away from him, pained with guilt. If only she had not touched the globe…”
In a land of magic, snow and secrets, Louisa and older brother, Jack, risk their lives to help their new friends. Can they succeed in their quest and find a way back to Grandma’s house?
Are you ready for the journey?
Tell me about what you write and what inspires you.
Reading books with my children. If I laugh, am excited or saddened by a story I have a desire to recreate that emotion in my own stories.
I keep my ‘story antennae’ switched on as I go about my day and am always on the look-out for quirky things I see or hear or odd events that trigger an idea for a story.
My boys provide many ideas for stories e.g. having battled with their terrible table manners (for example, my son inserted a pea up his nose just to see if it would fit!) one morning I said, ‘It’s a good job the Queen doesn’t have to watch you eat!’ Suddenly I realised this would make a great story and wrote the picture book, ‘Manners fit for A Queen’.
I think character and experience (of life) gear you to what you prefer to write about.
I tend to write during the school day. I have to be immersed in the story to write creatively (and that’s not easy with children about!). I find January to March my most creative time as it is a relatively quiet period (no birthdays, big events and so on). For the rest of the year, I write what I can when I can and also focus more on publicity.
I am also fortunate to have a trusted core of readers, including children, who will read my work and give me feedback on it long before it is published.
What are the joys and difficulties of writing children’s fiction?
I love the fact that there are no boundaries for imagination with children’s stories. Dinosaurs are real, animals can talk, characters can shrink into snow globes, perform magic and fly to the moon and your reader is right there with you and doesn’t for a moment question whether it can really happen or not!
For example, in my book Joshua and The Chocolate Thief, the hero hears the dolls in the doll’s tea party crying that someone has stolen their chocolate cake. It is accepted in the world of my story the dolls can talk.
Setting ground rules is key and this applies for adult fantasy/science fiction works too. Establish early something is possible in the world you’ve created and your readers will accept that.
Writing for children is lots of fun!! For me the difficulty is immersing myself as a child in the story, thinking and speaking like a child. Too often the parent and sensible grown-up pushes in! One reason for loving writing children’s fiction is I am not sure I have ever grown up! Writing for adults terrifies me.
It struck me when Anne said this that this is probably one of the best qualifications for being a children’s writer – and Roald Dahl was the prime example of this. He kept his understanding of what it meant to be a child and his stories are the stronger and richer for it. It’s also why kids still love his work. (Ironically I’m the other way round here. Couldn’t write for the younger market at all!).
I love getting feedback from children saying they love my stories. I receive postcards etc saying this and it reminds me that this is what it is all about – connecting directly with your readers.
Writing the book has led me to writing other material to back it up. For example, I have developed a workshop suitable for use with Year R children. I have also expanded a presentation prepared for use with Years 5 and 6. And I am thinking of my next book in the series – Secrets of the Snow Globe: Shooting Star. You have to have material that will interest the readers. In the case of my second book, I am thinking of things like star necklaces.
What did you learn from writing Secrets in the Snow Globe: Vanishing Voices?
So much!! Where do I begin?
I learnt most when editing the book with Barbara Large MBE. Before this process, I didn’t realise how much you can change and play around with a story. The essence of the story has always been the same but we altered plot, description, character’s gender, personality, and motivation etc, in order to tell the same story more effectively. At times I felt as though I was losing my story but in fact we were polishing it more brightly.
Before the editing process, I thought editing was mainly about removing text that shouldn’t be there. Surprisingly, Barbara showed me that often as a writer we miss essential information out! I knew my characters and plot but didn’t always translate those ideas onto paper assuming that the reader knew it too!
Or I thought I had included certain information thinking it was obvious to the reader when in fact it wasn’t. I found myself adding more than I took away. For example Barbara asked me what the Miser, the mysterious villain in the story, was like. At once I rattled off a description of him and his back story. She smiled and said, that I had communicated little of that in text!
I asked Anne whether she had ever put too much information in (this can be frighteningly easy to do). I asked this as I’ve left things out my readers need to know but with enough clues so they can work things out. This is where writing for adults can differ significantly from writing for children. While true you shouldn’t “spoonfeed” either market, it is true children will need more clues from what they read, especially if they are just starting to get into their first full length fiction.
For me it has been a question of putting things in to fill in gaps. I had been very conscious of the word count for books like mine but you still need to ensure that all the information the reader will need is actually in there.
Part of the learning curve for me in writing Secrets of the Snow Globe – Vanishing Voices, was that, up until that point, it was the longest story I had written. I was used to writing picture books, around 500-800 words long and short stories, around 1000 words long. Suddenly given the freedom of a much greater word count I was unsure how to get the balance in the story right between dialogue, description, action etc. It was very much a process of exploration as I tried to get the balance right. I also studied books by other children’s writers to work out the correct length of the book and the chapters. It is really important for a children’s writer to fit in with what is expected in that branch of fiction.
Barbara also encouraged me to rewrite narrative sections as dialogue. By allowing the characters to speak more, it brings them alive and makes the text more engaging.
It increases the pace of the story too and helps to keep it “moving”.
Next week Anne will share her three top tips for writers and what she would change about the publishing world if she could.
Read interviews with Chandler’s Ford writer Allison Symes: Part 1 and Part 2.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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