The Ministry of Misery

I am a year 6 teacher in the North East of England, and with only 3 school days left until the dreaded SATs, I thought I’d perk my fellow teachers up with a poem. It was the best way I could find to vent my frustrations. Poems are good like that. Chin up you beautiful people. The government might not appreciate us, but the kids do! Here’s to you!

 

The Ministry of Misery

 

The adults of this desperate land

Have forged together to make a band

Of brothers with one simple goal,

To take away our children’s souls.

“How dare they do this?” teachers cry,

“We cannot let this madness fly!”

But soar it does for all to see

The Ministry of Misery.

They take our children, young and pure

Each with the chance to stretch and soar,

Then stick them in a concrete box

And bind their silken wings in stocks.

They tell of knowledge yet to find

While slowly padlocking their minds;

And pluck out feathers, blow out flames

By treating all our kids the same.

Guided reading, maths and SPaG

Grammar that makes our authors gag;

Poems spoke with lifeless tongues

How tragically we feed the young!

Our species journeyed through the ages

A wealth of knowledge, filling pages,

But do our flightless children see?

Not if they want that prized degree!

Modal verbs and prepositions

Just one way to do addition;

Don’t even ask about the arts

We’re yet to draw your own pie charts!

Past progressive, perfect present

Buckle in, this won’t be pleasant;

The bar for them is set so high

That teachers are now forced to lie:

“This stuff’s important, don’t you know!

Just let the pointless knowledge flow!

Never you mind the great outdoors

If you can’t count up in your fours!”

And so the dreadful cycle goes

The more they learn the less they know

Of this great world that’ll soon be theirs

Denied to them by thoughtless peers.

And then we wonder why the world,

Is caught up in a downward swirl;

Yet there is a way to set them free

Cast out that clueless Ministry.

Turn out the shadows, suits and ties,

There really is no compromise;

If we really want our kids to soar

Let teachers teach forever more.

Guy Lucas

Year 6 Teacher

Slowly but Surely

“Slowly but surely.”

For the past nine years this has been my default response to the question: “So, Guy, how’s the writing going?”

“It’s fine. I’m getting there, slowly but surely.”

My friends and family usually laugh before waiting, expectantly, for a “proper” response. But my response has always, and will always be, the same.

“Seriously guys, I’m getting there. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there.”

I don’t think my friends and family ever took me seriously. Wanting to be a writer is a common dream now after all, especially around university campuses, so I can’t blame them for thinking I was like every other wannabe raconteur. I’m sure they have all been waiting for the day when my response would inevitably change to: “Actually, guys, you know what? The writing’s been going badly for a while now and in all honesty, I’m probably just kidding myself. I think it’s about time I followed everyone’s advice and gave it up. I need to focus on my ‘career’ after all.”

But that day never came, because, let’s face it, being realistic has never really been my strong point.

You see, most people who don’t want to write think that people who do want to write simply sit down in front of a laptop and begin, almost whimsically, to type out the perfect story  – preferably one that came to them whilst sipping macchiatos at the local café. They believe that once the great coffee God has slipped his/her imagination pill into your caramel swirls the words simple vomit out of you until perfection is achieved. They believe that if that novel isn’t perfect once that final full stop punctures the screen then you are simply not worthy of the title of writer and must give up the momentary muse immediately before crippling alcoholism sets in.

But they couldn’t be more wrong. Seriously, that’s not how writing works – for the majority of us at least.

On Saturday (27th February – I think) I received a phone call from an agent – one that I have been working with for quite some time.  During this phone call I was told that my writing was in fact good enough (who knew?) and said agent would very much like to place her name next to mine and represent me from here on out. I was over the moon! Genuinely, words cannot express the sheer delight that fizzed through me. Because, you see, contrary to popular belief, I had not just hammered out a perfect first draft and sent it off (if only!). I’d pretty much re-written the novel from scratch with the agent acting as a mentor, and then redrafted over and over, polishing it to an ever greater shine with no real clue as to whether the agent would take me on or not. But she did! And guess what? This wasn’t even my first novel! It was my fifth! I’ll give you a moment to let that soak in. Five novels. Not one, or two, or even four, but five novels! That phone call was the result of nine years hard work, and I was chuffed to bits.

I realised I wanted to write books for a living when I was eighteen years old. I have been writing near enough every day since then (I am now twenty-seven), and despite the doubts, despite the rejections, I kept going. You see (again, contrary to popular belief) writing takes time – good writing, at least. Like an apprentice sculptor you might have that vision of perfection in your head, but it takes years of working on your craft before you can even begin to carve something that looks vaguely similar, and even then you’ll always be far from perfection (something I now believe doesn’t, and should not, exist).

But why would any self-respecting human do that? Why would anyone spend so much time on something only to get nothing back?

Well, I suppose there are many reasons.

The first being my obsession with already super-successful writers. When I find a writer I like, it’s not enough for me to simply buy their books. I need to know them. I need to know their journey – the pilgrimage that has lead them to this pinnacle of human achievement that I admire so vehemently. Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, John Wyndham, etc, etc. I needed to know their life stories – I needed to know their secrets.

And you know what?

I found them.

And by them, I mean it.

That’s right. It. Singular.

I found that thing that all the great writers possess that everyone else does not. I found the Holy Grail of knowledge that would ultimately lead me to that phone call – that great, life changing phone call. And it was this:

Stubborn determination.

No, seriously, it’s that simple.

Don’t give up.

But that can’t be it! I thought. That – that’s insane! It can’t be that easy!

And it isn’t – not really. Stubborn determination is not easy. You have to suffer. A lot. And I don’t mean to sound depressive or like writing was a chore, because that is not it at all. I write because I have to. My head is a bucket and it needs emptying on a regular basis. If I don’t tip the words out, I get cranky. It’s not good. The writing isn’t the problem, it’s getting your writing noticed. For that, you need to take those hits. You need to receive those rejection letters, you need to feel that disappointment . . . and keep moving forward. You need to sit in front of a page of writing and hate it . . . but then keep moving forward. You need to send your book to agents and get “No” after “No” after “No” . . . but then keep moving forward.

Not everyone will go through this. I’m sure there are those really annoying people for whom a caramel macchiato is enough, but for me I needed that determination. I needed it like a plant needs rain. Without it I would have withered and died at my desk. Thankfully, I learned this lesson early. I was taught it by the best.

Book one, for me, was the hardest. It was my greatest achievement and my greatest disappointment all rolled into one. I was naïve. I was young. But I kept moving forward. Book two was still hard, but the edges had been rounded off. After rejection, Ikept moving forward. When it came to book three I sent it off expecting rejection, but it was still sprinkled with hope. It was the same with book four! And by the time I reached book five, nine years of none stop writing had filled my noggin! Nine years of rejection and iron-clad determination coated everything I did. By book five, I had made a plethora of mistakes – mistakes that would have made most wannabe writers throw in the towel and yell: “ENOUGH!”

But by book five, I had it. That stubborn determination. That refusal to give up. That belief that if I simply kept pushing forward I too could have what my hero’s had. I too could get that elusive publishing deal.

I imagined myself a runner in a great race. In it, every human who wanted to be a writer was running alongside me and the finish line was a publishing deal. And we were running. Sweating, bleeding, crying, we were running, and all around me people were dropping out. All around me there were people who had had enough, and one by one they were pulling over to breath. But still I knew, the more people that pulled out, the greater my chances of being the last one standing. And that’s all that matters. So I ran. I ran and I ran, over and over, getting fitter, faster. Still, all around me people were dropping, but that stubborn refusal kept me going. I had the idea that if I could only keep running, eventually everyone else will quit and I will be the last man standing. Then I’d be guaranteed the deal!

I have lived my life by that race. Every time I felt like quitting, I told myself: “No! If you quit, someone behind will overtake. Keep moving forward.”

And now I have an agent. The biggest hurdle so far has been conquered. But even bigger hurdles await. Will the book that secured my agent be published? Well, the figure that seems to be sliding through the publishing community is 50%. That’s half of all agent-submitted manuscripts accepted by publishers. Those odds are the best I’ve ever had. They’re not perfect, but they’re still pretty darn good. I have as much chance of being rejected as I have of being accepted.

But guess what?

A rejection doesn’t matter! If the publishers say no, then I will write another. I am writing another! And I will keep writing books until the publishers have no choice but to say yes. Even then, when they do say yes, a new battle will begin. I’ll go on school visits, talk in libraries, take part in book festivals. I’ll even have reviews! Good and bad. But no matter what the world throws my way, I will forever keep moving forward.

When I told my friends I had an agent, they were chuffed. They congratulated me and praised me and made my ego swell like a party balloon. But when they asked what would happen next – when I’d be published – my response was the same as ever:

“I have a long way to go yet, but I’m getting there. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there.”

“But you have an agent now! That’s got to make it easier!”

“Maybe,” I replied. “Maybe not. But as I said, I’ll get there eventually, slowly but surely.”

The publishing industry is in no rush. It is the race track, and we, the writers, must decide: is it better to be a hare, or a tortoise? Sure, we feel like hares. We want to rush towards that publishing deal. We feel ready. We think our books are perfect and genius and the world needs to see them! But we all know that it is better to be a tortoise. Why?

Because they get there in the end – slowly but surely.

So if anyone out there wants to be a writer, remember: be the tortoise. Work, write, edit, submit, reject and repeat. Work, write, edit, submit, reject, repeat. If you follow this system, you too will get there.

Slowly but surely.

Just keep moving forward.

I.M.

Welcome to the Jungle

“It’s a fantastic time to be writing children’s and YA fiction,” Frances Hardinge told the world last week.  The Lie Tree had just become the second children’s book in history to win the overall Costa Book Of The Year.  “For those who think children’s and YA fiction is not their thing: please do come and explore.  There’s a beautiful jungle out there.”

 

And so begins the rather spectacular blog-post currently doing the rounds on social media. It was written (I believe) by the lovely (and somewhat heroic) people at MiddleGradeStrikesBack, and is well worth your time.

If you haven’t read it yet, click on this link and give it a go. Seriously, just do it. Like right now. Please. Just click the link. I’m not going to quit until you do. It’s quite enlightening:

http://middlegradestrikesback.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/coverkidsbooks-facts.html

So, because you have all just gone away and read the article, and then promptly returned having remembered that you were in fact reading something else entirely beforehand, you will know what I’m talking about. It’s quite a damning article, highlighting the gross lack of coverage in our media in regards to children’s literature.

“Grab the metaphorical pitch forks!” you yell . . . but wait! I believe there is more to this than a simple lack of coverage. Will putting more reviews in newspapers help promote children’s fiction? Of course it will, and it would be a great place to start, but we’d be wrong to think that that alone will elevate children’s fiction to the godly status it deserves. What we have here is not a media issue . . . it is a cultural one.

“A cultural issue!” you’re probably scoffing. But yes, ultimately, I believe it is the case. Now let me tell you why.

I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, and as soon as I graduated from university I knew that I wanted to share that love of reading with others – to pass the reading bug gallantly on to the next generation. “I’ll become an English teacher!” I naively proclaimed, but then I thought back to my own English lessons: The unending criticisms of Nobel winning novels; the out-of-context, haemorrhage-inducing essays on Shakespeare; the line by line break downs of poems (that in no way resembled the dream-like scenes from The Dead Poets Society), and I quickly changed my mind.

So now, at the age of 27, I am a primary school teacher. And I love it. Seriously, it rocks . . . but my dream of being the next Robin Williams was quickly shattered. Teaching children to read is hard. No, wait, teaching children to read is easy . . . teaching children to love reading? Now that’s hard.

I have, admittedly, only been teaching for a few years, but in that short time, the cultural hole has already revealed itself. I am about to lay down some of the things that I believe are wrong with our culture. Now, you may very well disagree with what I have to say, and that’s fine. I know some people will read this a say “Hey, wait a minute! I do that already!” In which case, BRAVO! You are a hero! Go and spread the word!

Have I thought long and hard about these things? No. Am I shooting the words from my metaphorical hip? Maybe. Am I quickly typing this out so I can read a couple more chapters of “The Five People You Meet In Heaven?” before marking roughly forty books? You bet. But never-the-less.

Here are my observations since beginning my teaching journey.

 

Cultural Issue #1 – Teachers That Don’t Read

How is a person expected to instil a love of reading when they themselves do not read for pleasure? Children are not stupid. If you tell a class to sit and read, and then quickly begin marking or checking emails or doing something other than reading, they will notice . . . and they will switch off. If you want the children to read, READ WITH THEM! For twenty minutes every afternoon my kids and I kick off our shoes, put our feet on the desks, and read. That’s okay. I read my books. They read their books. Sometimes we don’t read at all and just talk about our books. I share my favourites with the kids. They share their favourites with me, and that’s okay too. The result? Kids enjoy reading. Not all of them, granted, but most. To me, a teacher who doesn’t read is like a chef who doesn’t use salt. Yes he/she can still do their job, but there will forever be something missing.

 

Cultural Issue #2 – Punishment

Both parents and teachers are guilty of this. When a child is naughty, they are told to stay in and read. All this does is create a bridge in their minds between reading and punishment, which does more harm than good. Believe me. There are other things children can be doing (their time’s tables for example – everyone hates those), but whatever you do, don’t give reading as a punishment. Make it a reward! “If you finish your work to the required standard, you can lay on the bean-bags in the reading corner and chill with a book!” It’s not that difficult.

 

Cultural Issue #3 – Reading Schemes

Schools are obsessed with levelling children and putting them on the correct “bands”. Some people are so hooked on this system that they force children to stick to their bands until they have proven – somehow – that they are ready for the next one. Don’t. I told my children to ignore the scheme and pick books they wanted to read. And guess what? They did. Did the weaker readers pick whopping great novels like War and Peace to begin with so they looked awesome? Of course, but after a period of time they corrected themselves and found a book they liked. I also read thin books so they realise big books don’t equal good books (from my experience, the opposite seems to be true!)

I have met people obsessed with forcing children to finish books too. DON’T! If a book is boring, tell them to put it down and pick another. I don’t finish books that are dull so why should they?  

 

Cultural Issue #4 – Parents

Dear parent. Do not tell me you struggle to get your child to read when you yourself don’t do it. Your children idolise you. They want to be you. If you come home and lounge in front of the TV, they will do the same. If you sit at home with a book. They will do the same.

Also, I once had a parent come to me and complain that I’d asked his child to read at home. He said, and I quote, “When my son gets home, he relaxes. He doesn’t do school work, and I don’t want him to do school work. It is your job to teach him to read, not mine.”

Parents need to take responsibility as much as teachers. This, I know, can be hard. That parent clearly didn’t read himself, and judging by his tone had probably had a bad experience in the past – perhaps he had been forced to read in class by a non-reading teacher. The solution to this? I don’t know. Seriously. I’m not a parent. Perhaps it is a generational thing that will heal with time. If we get the children of today into books, perhaps this won’t happen. Perhaps it will. Anyway, onwards we go!

 

Cultural Issue #5 – Television

No, I’m not about to say TV is bad for kids. We all love a bit of tele (Have you seen Game of Thrones!). What I mean by TV is the coverage and promotion it gives to children fiction. Mainly – where is it? How difficult would it be, just once a week, during prime-time kids TV slots, to have a short program in which presenters discuss books and interview authors and play book-based games and have children on actually reviewing books themselves, or SOMETHING! Just once a week would do! That’s 52 episodes a year! I’m sure there’d be 52 newly published MG authors who’d love to go and promote their books and play games and have fun. Teachers would see it and be more open to having the authors in schools, children would be psyched to have them come, and parents could engage and watch it too! Seriously, the fact that this program doesn’t exist baffles me!

 

But as I said, these are just ramblings. All I know is that there is so much potential being wasted. Children’s fiction is, to me, the greatest of all fiction, and right now, as many keep saying, we are in a golden age the likes of which the world has never seen before. Through children’s books I have visited a million different worlds, seen through the eyes of a million different people, been on great adventures, saved kingdoms, ruined kingdoms, travelled the solar system and passed through the gates of heaven; through them, I have grown. Every book that I have ever read has changed me in one way or another, and for each and every one, I am grateful.

Frances Hardinge is right, there is a beautiful jungle out there, and it is our job to welcome the next generation inside. Let’s get the message out!

(P.S. If you are a parent or teacher who wishes to find ways of promoting books at home or in school, read “The Rights of the Reader” by Daniel Pennac and “The Book Whisperer” by Donalyn Miller. They’re awesome!)

(P.P.S – Use the hashtag #CoverKidsBooks and spread the word)

Peace and Love,

I.M.

Brothers in Arms

I have probably met more authors in the last week than I have met during my whole 26 years of living; and when I say met, I mean really met . . . in person . . .  with a conversation attached. As you are aware I am currently on the road to publication and are, at present, further down that road than I have ever been before. I am being mentored by an agent. I don’t have an agent yet, but I have been working closely with one, and at the start of September I sent her what I hope will be the final draft of my novel, The Miracle of Harrow Falls. I have been working with this agent since April of this year and have had the time of my life . . . but one thing has always bothered me:

What if I’m not good enough for this industry? 

During my uni days the head of the degree I finally settled on invited a previous student of his in to give a talk. This student had just been awarded a publishing contract. She was to become an author – a real life, actual author. So, in she came, and shared with us – a group of want-to-be writers – her stories and experiences of the industry so far. This person was young adult author Kerry Drewery, and after listening to her speak, I made sure I sat next to her when we all went for a break and ended up getting her email address.

And so, here was my first experience with an author. She wasn’t arrogant, or rude; she didn’t refuse to help or make her excuses when I asked for the email. She genuinely wanted to help me, to share her knowledge. But she was from my town. She was newly published. What if the others in the industry weren’t as nice? What if they had been hardened by years of publishing battles and saw the likes of me, a wannabe, as someone to scoff at? These are crazy thoughts, but they were my thoughts non the less.

Now, fast-forward three years. I became a teacher, I wrote two more books (both rejected) but I was now working on The Miracle of Harrow Falls. This felt better. Kerry Drewery had been giving me advice, reading what I had written and offering professional feedback. I learned a lot from those emails. After two books she was still as willing and kind as ever. I cannot express how grateful I am for that. Seriously.

As a teacher I wanted (and still do want) to make reading “my thing”. I wanted to show kids that reading was great, and to be the ambassador of dreams that most children so badly crave. So, I set up competitions and with these reading competitions I wanted worthy prizes. And so, my second encounter with an author took place.

The competition was as follows: read 40 books by the end of the year and I will buy you any complete children’s series with my own money. Two girls completed it. Many came close. Most discovered a book they otherwise wouldn’t have found. To me, it was a success. But again, the prize. When I asked what series they wanted, both girls replied: GOTH GIRL! So I purchased them. Grateful for the author’s work and the inspiration he passed to the girls, I thought I’d email him to let him know. Enter Chris Riddell, author, illustrator, and the freaking Waterstones Children’s Laureate.

I emailed to explain the competition and say thank you for inspiring the girls so much that both made his series their books of choice. I expected nothing in return. He’s the freaking Waterstones Children’s Laureate after all! But, not two days after emailing, I received a reply. Chris Riddell (THE FREAKING WATERSTONES CHILDREN’S LAUREATE) had taken time out of his day to reply. Not only that, but he’d also taken more time out of his day to draw three personalised pieces of artwork for the winners, which he later mailed to my school at his own cost. What a hero. Again, I was blown away by a real author’s generosity and kindness. And he was a superstar. He was the FREAKING WATERSTO- yeah, well, you get the picture.

Now, last week Kerry Drewery informed me about the UKMGExtravaganza in Nottingham – a collection of over thirty authors gathering to talk about their work to a willing crowd. I purchased a ticket, I tagged along, I met a multitude of amazing authors (Emma Carroll and SF Said in particular!) and finally realised something. All authors, no matter how successful, are lovely people. My preconceived notions of what an author was and what kind of people they were was completely shattered. They were all willing to chat – they were willing to offer advice – and not one looked at me funny or groaned when I said: “I’ve written a book too.” Everyone was supportive, many have since talked to me on Twitter, and Abi Elphinstone even came to give a talk at my school!

My school is half an hour from the train station, so I was lucky enough to pick Abi up and drop her off. That gave us an hour of conversation time. Again, my brain was overworking. What if I say something stupid? What if she groans because I’ve trapped her in my car and won’t shut up about my book that’ll probably never be published? But, once again, she was amazing. She gave me lots of self-marketing tips, passed over insider knowledge, offered advice – heck, we even laughed and joked for a bit too. Now, like Kerry before her, she wants me to update her on my progress, should any come my way.

All of these wonderful experiences have shown me what such a great bunch the MG and YA writers are, and what a tightly-knit community they have established. Every author I have met has replied, offered advice, and been super supportive. Now, with the half term looming, I feel a new sense of optimism. I feel like you know what? Maybe I can do this. Authors are people like me. Authors have been where I am and came out the other side, dreams in tact.

Why did I write this? Because I feel we are living in a golden age of children’s fiction. The authors alive and writing today will, I am sure, create tomorrow’s classics, and I want to be apart of that, to become another member of that ever growing family. I am a writer. No, I’m not published, and no I don’t have an agent – yet – but even if this work with my mentor falls through and she does say no, that doesn’t mean I’m going to quit. I am more determined now than ever before, and with my pen in my hand and my new comrades beside me, I will march into battle, and I won’t stop fighting until I win or I die, and I have no plans to die just yet. There are still so many stories yet to tell.

So, publishing industry – bring it on!

The Reason I Write, and Who I Write For

Why do I write? Who am I writing for?

These are two of the most important questions any aspiring writer/artist must ask themselves. And, I believe, you cannot be truly successful, or know fully who or what you are, until you have answered them both honestly. Why are you doing it, and who are you doing it for? In this blog post I shall give my answers to both of these questions. Your own answers may very well be different (I would hope they are, should we all be the same).

Why Do I Write?

I believe it is possible to put every person who calls themselves a writer into one of two categories. There are those who write because they like the idea of being a writer. They see the likes of JK Rowling and George R R Martin, scooping up tens, if not hundreds of millions of pounds/dollars for their work and think: I can do that. How hard can it be? They think, and yes, most even go as far as creating a synopsis, either on paper or just in their heads (usually just in their heads). These people then gloat to their peers about how they are going to be the next big thing. They talk about how well they will do, how unique their ideas are, how no one has ever done anything like them before and the world will bow down and collectively drops their slackened jaws in sheer awe at the magnificence of their work. They are, for want of a better word, deluded. These people talk more about their writing then they do actually writing. On Twitter, they tweet famous writers and then brag to their friends about re-tweets, they go to writers talks or creative writing classes and act like they know it all, and, because most people do not know any different, they believe them, further ensnaring said writer in their own delusion. And through it all – through all the dreaming and bragging – they fail to see that these writers whom they hold in such high esteem (Rowling, Gaiman, King, Martin etc) did not write their novels because they hoped to be stupidly rich and famous and successful. They wrote them because they were, in fact, members of the second category of people. The true category.

Members of this category write not because they desire fame and fortune, but because they have to write. These people, myself included, write because it is a part of them. I write stories because when I walk or have a few brief moments of solitude, my brain goes to other places. For some reason, when I think, I do not think about bills to pay, the mortgage, work, my friends, my life. I think instead about other worlds, and deals with the devil, and castles in the imagination. I do not think. I imagine. This is a blessing, and, at times, a curse (excuse the dramatic cliché). When I imagine, I build stories, and if I do not get those stories out of my head and onto paper I grow anxious, fidgety, and on occasions, depressed. If I do not write I feel clogged. These stories, these voices in my mind, they beg to be told, and if I do not tell them those characters begin taking pickaxes to my memories and start dislodging my every day thoughts. The less I write, the less I remember. It is as simple as that. It is like these voices – these stories – that appear in my head are the voices of real people, somewhere in the world. Perhaps when people pray, those prayers are not heard by God, but by writers? It certainly feels that way sometimes, that if I don’t tell their stories I am somehow doing them a disservice.

So that is why I write. I write, because I have to. I believe that if you ask any successful writer/artist/actor/singer why they do what they do, they will tell you the same. This also comes hand in hand with success. To be a good writer, you must practise. I am still practising. I always will be, I think. But those writers who write because they want to will fall short in the end, because they lack the stamina, the will to put in all those novels. They lack the patience to persevere through the mountains of rejections, the bad books, the crap short stories, the mind-numbingly dull poetry, and so they give up. However, we writers who write because we have to, will always put in those hours. We will write novel, after novel, after novel, not because we are seeking fame and fortune, but because we must. And through those years of solitary story-telling our craft improves. With every story – with every 100,000 words – we get better, and in the end, after five years, ten years, fifteen, twenty, we arrive at a standard that is good enough to be shared. 

Who Do I Write For?

This is harder to answer than the first question, because since deciding that I wanted to take this journey, that I would attempt to turn these voices into a career, my target audience has changed, time and time again. At first I wrote for myself. As I said before, I wrote because I had to. I needed to. But now that I am being mentored and working on a book with an industry professional, I can no longer think purely for myself. I have to consider: who else will read this? Children, is the answer, but it is not the full answer.

My novel, The Miracle of Harrow Falls, is an upper-middle grade novel. For those who don’t know, that is for children aged 9-12. I teach that age range. I know it well. I know it very well. This gives me an advantage. If you were to look at the children’s book market at the moment, you will see it dominated by the likes of David Walliams, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Jeremy Strong. These contain the usual – the expected. There is a story, not too complex, light, humorous, and a whole load of toilet humour. I have nothing against this. This sells. It is big business, and children lap it up. But not all children. Being a teacher I see the darker side of children’s lives. I see children who are neglected, abused, bullied, at school and at home. I see children struggle to cope as their parents divorce, get ill . . . even die.

These children are not interested in fart jokes. 

At first, before I became a teacher, I would have said: “No! These funny books are good. They cheer them up! They take them out of their misery and make them smile.” But I am a teacher. A child came back after the last half term and informed me that her mother has lung cancer. She was confused, devastated. I can tell you, no amount of toilet humour was going to put a smile on her face. She didn’t need to smile. She needed to understand. She was in a dark place, and she needed to talk to other people who were also in dark places so she could figure out how they escaped back into the light. These children are after escape. They are desperate for it, and from what I see, they are seeking it in YA fiction. Children as young as nine read dark, disturbing YA novels, most of which contain content (Sex, drugs, violence) that they should not be exposed to. And yet they still read them. They read because they are in a dark place, and only characters also in dark places can help.

Who do I write for? I write for them. I write for the children who are going through things that no child should go through. I take characters and I put them through hell, not because I want to be dark and edgy, but because I want to show that no matter how deep you go, there is always a light at the end. I am not interested in books about underpants or smelly tramps or toilet-roll billionaires. That limits my market, and I will not get rich writing the books I do, but I’m not in this to get rich. I’m in this to show those who are so down they fear they may never get up, that it’s okay, that they’re not alone, and that if they fight -and I mean really fight- they have a chance at happiness once again.

So there it is. The reason I write, and who I write for.

If you are a writer, what are your answers? What are your reasons?

I.M.

A New Chapter

Hello all!

I created this blog a couple of years ago, with no clear idea of what it was going to be or where I wanted to take it. Well, now I do. I suppose I should explain . . .

 So, last year I accidentally sold my sister’s soul to the devil. Now before you freak out, you’ve got to understand, she totally deserved it.

Last year in August, when the summer holidays were in full swing, I was out walking in the Mausoleum Woods in the Lincolnshire Wolds when I thought up those words. I don’t know exactly where they came from. I didn’t know who was saying them, why they were saying them, or even if they were true, but for the remaining two hours I spent walking, and then the next half an hour driving home, they were all I thought about. When I did finally get a chance to sit down, alone, at my laptop, I typed them out and found that there were other sentences lurking beyond. I spent the next two months linking those sentences, following that trail of imaginative crumbs, and ended up with a book. I called it, The Miracle of Harrow FallsAnd I was proud of it. I mean really proud of it.

Yes, okay, I’ll admit, there were holes in it (gaping caverns, in fact) and character’s were sometimes doing things they probably shouldn’t have been doing, and saying things they should very well have kept to themselves! It was rough. By heck it was rough, but it was there. A book. A brand new, finished, diamond in a great big pile of rough.

I spent the next few months polishing that diamond, chiselling away the pointy edges and smoothing over all the bits that hurt when you read them. By March of this year (2015) I was ready to send it off. To agents. Literary folk. The gatekeepers to the kingdom longed after by so many dreamers. I have written four novels since beginning this quest nine years ago, and each was better than the last. This showed in the quality of rejection I received after wrapping them warm and sending them out into the world. My first novel, which I completed while at University, was bad. Hence, not even a letter of “sorry not for me” came after it. Just . . . nothing. And I deserved it. I knew nothing of the world and naively thought myself a master (ha, how fickle we are). Next, when I was 22, I tried again. At 23 I sent off my next novel. This was also bad. Not as bad as the first, but still bad. Deep down I knew it. But I received letters back. They still said no, but they were letters. Someone had taken the time to respond. It was progress.

Around this time I read a quote by Neil Gaiman saying: “All writers have one million bad words inside of them. In order to get to the good stuff, you must first extinguish those million words.” Or something to that effect. So, between the ages of 23 and 25, I wrote every day (near enough) and tried my best to extinguish those million words. In that time I wrote 3 books. None of these will ever see the light of day. They were mine. I called them, The Dark Ones. But then, at 25, I had an idea. I knew this was not going to be another Dark One. This was going to be something else. Something real. It was called The Witching Circle. I loved it. It wasn’t perfect (at this point I accepted that I’d never see any of my works as perfect) but it was good. I sent it off, again, for the first time in a long time, and again it got rejected. But these rejections were different. The agents didn’t send copy-and-paste replies, or ignore me completely. They were personal. Complementary. They said things like “You can clearly write well, but it’s not for us” and “I don’t think I can sell this, but this is a subjective business . . .” etc etc etc.

When I received the final rejection (rejection 7 I believe) I went for a walk to clear my head. On that walk I imagined those words, wrote The Miracle of Harrow Falls  and sent it off.

Two days ago I got a reply from an agent. This said she liked my book and wanted to discuss it further. I was at work at the time, just about to log off my computer and start marking my books (I’m a teacher now, believe it or not!), and when I read them, my legs gave way. I slumped into my chair, re-read the email half a dozen times, and then called Helen. I said: “I’ve done it. Someone hasn’t said no.” They hadn’t said yes either, but they hadn’t said no. THAT was new. That had never happened before.

I have since spoken to said agent over the phone and await a Skype call over the weekend. Still, they haven’t said that they want to rep me, but they are taking the time out of their lives to help me with my book. When I look back, I see a pattern. Book one: no reply. Book two: standard rejection. Book three: personalised rejection (and a few complements). Book four: A one to one discussion.

I am not deluded. I know that this may amount to nothing, but I have hope. I have determination. I have the guts to push forward. I have the courage to pursue my dream, beyond the ends of the Earth if I must.

This blog will chronicle my journey. The names will be hidden. Including my own.

I am the Imagination Man, and this is my journey.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness is a complex thing, isn’t it? First of all it is subjective and varies from one person to the next. One man’s/woman’s idea of happiness may well be another person’s worst nightmare, and so, with that in mind, how on earth do we find our own happy medium? How do we find what makes us truly happy? Well, that too is a hard thing because only we know what makes us happy, don’t we?

So how does one go about pursing something so obscure and subjective, especially when no one else can see it, touch it or feel it? That, I believe, is one of life’s great questions and, consequently, one of the hardest to answer. It involves going on a journey that we are conditioned from birth not to venture on, and so it takes a lot of time and a lot of patience . . . depending on your own goal, of course.

Our society is not designed to promote such a life-long pursuit, especially if your own happiness does not in any way involve accumulated wealth or material possessions. We are raised to pass exams and then told to use those numbers to choose a vocation. We are raised to believe that the money we make from these vocations will make us happy, in one way or another. The more you have the happier you’ll be. The more you earn the nicer your house, the flasher your car and the more exotic your holidays will become. But, the problem is that money does not make people happy. Not really. Happiness – true happiness – comes from something much deeper than the material. Some would even argue that it is a spiritual process, and I for one agree.

Children watch their parents complain about their lives. They moan about their jobs, their friends, their bills, their lack of money, and for why? These children then go on to make the exact same mistakes as their peers. Okay, they may have different jobs and live in different places, and not all do fall into this trap, but most people end up with the same complaints and their children witness this and the cycle repeats. 

I once saw a video taken from a lecture by philosopher Alan Watts and in this video Alan asked his audience, what would you do if money were no object? This video opened my eyes and made me realise just how silly and flawed this system is. In this video Alan Watts asks, why would you dedicate your life to a job you don’t like just to buy things you don’t want? Where is the sense in that? This made me ask: What makes me happy? What would I do if money were no object?

I decided that I would like to be a writer and travel the world. The world amazes me. I love being outdoors, be it up a mountain, in the ocean, in the snow, rain, or sun, I just love being outside and feeling alive. Happiness for me is being able to look upon something natural and grand and getting that feeling deep in the pit of your stomach when you realise that the world is bigger and brighter and more amazing than you ever thought possible. To experience that feeling every day would be heaven, and then to write about it and share it with others would complete me. 

To me, happiness is freedom. 

I am in pursuit of happiness, and I am gaining fast. I can see my goal, feel it almost, and this makes me happy. The money I earn from my job is not what makes me happy, it is the job itself that makes me happy. It is not the car I drive that makes me happy, but the fact that it carries my fiancée and I to wonderful places. I have met my soul mate, and she makes me happy. I am writing a book and that makes me happy. I have seen wonders of the world and they made me happy. 

What makes you happy? What do you want out of life? Do you even know, and if not how on earth do you find out? Well first you must live. By that I don’t mean get a job and earn money because that is not living that is existing. You do not do those things to benefit yourself, you do them to make other people money and because it is what you have been raised to believe is the way it should be, but it shouldn’t. Working in a job you hate is the most unnatural thing imaginable. You get one shot at life so why on earth would you waste it doing something that doesn’t make you happy? Why do something to make someone else happy? Do it for you, it should always be for you. Everything. If what makes you happy is abhorrent to others then to hell with them. Do what you want to do. Life for the now. Don’t dream of a perfect life, just open your eyes and grasp it. It won’t come to you of its own accord, it must be you that reaches out and grabs it.

I wish to one day look back at my life and smile knowing I did everything I could and enjoyed everything I did. As Alan Watt says: “It is better to live a short life that is full of the things you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.”

I’m in pursuit of happiness. Are you?

 

Living my life for now, not for tomorrow.

I have being living my life in the same way as so many others, and it is only recently that I have come to realise the true nature and scale of my error. I have being living my life by looking to the future and not paying enough attention to the here and the now. 

 

My dream is to be a writer. Everyone who knows me is well aware of this, and some are even supportive, but I have being going about it all the wrong way. I have been looking into the future, imagining the life I want to live and doing the things I wish I could do, when really what I should have being doing was looking at my life now, and making the changes that will allow this future to become a reality.

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I realised that if I went about my life dreaming of the future I would never get there, because I would not be doing anything about it in the present, and that is a trap I believe a great many of us fall into. We sit around tables in bars and restaurants and tell each other our dreams and our hopes. We talk of the lives we’d like to live and the experiences we’d love to have, and yet once the talking is done we go back to our jobs and our homes and our lives and do nothing about it. We waste our times imagining as we sit at our desks and sort through our bills and iron our shirts that one day . . . some day, it’ll happen, but of course it never will.

The world is vast and full of dreams, and any one of us can venture out to experience it, but we don’t. Instead we dream, and sometimes dreams are a good thing. They are fundamental in fact, because without dreams we cannot alter our lives and embark on our pursuits of happiness, but sometimes we can dream too much and lose sight of the realisation that these dreams can become reality if we act. Sometimes you dream so hard that the dreams fade into insignificance.

I will not let that happen. I am engaged to a beautiful woman, I have an amazing job and together we have seen parts of the world others only dream of. Did we get there by dreaming? No, we got there by doing. I have had short stories published and I am coming to the end of my novel. Did this happen by magic? No, it happened because I acted. I moulded my life into the life I want to live, and so should you. 

The world we live on is vast. There are marvels all around us and enough stars for us all. We have to stop staring up at the sky and instead reach out and grab it.

Life is short and I intend to live mine each day at a time. Alan Watts once said that there is no future, only the present, and I couldn’t agree more. If you live each day as if it’s your last, you won’t be disappointed when that day finally comes. Image

The writing blog . . . is it worth it?

I write every day. It is a part of my daily routine and it is one that I love and look forward to immensely. My day at work flies ever faster when I have a story or character on my mind, and the joy that is sitting down at the end of a long day to get it down is unmatched, in my opinion. 

I am writing a novel – well, an adventure novel for children – but mostly my time is occupied writing short stories. Back in the 1900’s (in America especially) the way to get your name  out there and build up a readership was through short-stories. Magazines paid for good quality fiction and allowed good writers to build up a respectable CV which would inevitably help sell their future novels. Everyone was a winner. The likes of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman discuss regularly that their early careers began with short fiction, and it is through their advice that I myself began writing. Short fiction allowed me to tighten up my stories, flesh out characters and build on plot in a way that just writing novels never could (not as quickly, anyway) and I have been lucky enough to have had some of my short stories published. 

But things are changing. Magazines are on the decline and are being replaced with internet only eZines and blogs. Most do not pay, and those that do require a submission fee. This may not be a bad thing as the internet is a vast place . . . but that does not necessarily mean exposure. 

I started my blog because, after meeting with other writers, it seemed like the thing to do – changing with the times and all that. And when I search through the Freshly Pressed blogs I can see that hundreds, if not thousands of aspiring writers are blogging on a near daily basis, and sure, they are attracting the likes of other aspiring writers, but in terms of helping their/our careers, I have to ask . . . 

IS IT REALLY WORTH IT?

Is our culture of prolific blogging taking us away from the one thing that we really want . . . to write good fiction? Writing blogs is still writing, yeah, okay, I get that, and if you want to get into journalism then swell, good for you, but we fiction writers should be writing fiction, yet people out there seem to spend most days writing about writing stories, instead of getting any down on paper/screen. (I of course see the irony in the fact that I am contradicting myself, but shush! That’s not the point.)

I guess what I want to know is: 

  • How many writers have been plucked from these blogging sites and given contracts/career boosts? 
  • Do agents/publishers see blogging as a positive thing? Or has it ever impacted on a decision to take a writer on? 
  • How are writers nowadays getting their work out there?
  • Is anyone actually benefiting from all of this, and does it even matter? 

Personally, I write short stories and send them to online magazines (the UK is short on paper magazines that accept the type of stories I write) and in the meantime I am writing a book which I will eventually send to agents with a list of prior publishing credits. This is the old way of doing things –  the way my writing heroes went about it, but technology and the internet has changed that. People blog for pleasure and that’s great, I have no qualms about that. If blogging for you is a bit of fun and a means of discussing/socialising then great, I am not talking to you. I am directing these questions at people like myself. People who want to make a career for writing.

How are you doing it? Has anyone done it differently, and succeeded? I am intrigued by the lives of others similar to myself, and the stories and adventures we writers undertake along our road to publication. What do you think? Is these opening of social doors a good thing, or bad thing?

 

I.M.

The Man Behind the Imagination . . . a Tribute

My journey as a writer had a somewhat misguided beginning. I decided to take the writer’s journey when I was just 15 years old and obsessed with a certain horror writer named Stephen King. As far as my immensely naive self was concerned I was to become the next Stephen King and send the rest of the world cowering behind their bed sheets . . . and I gave it a shot, a serious shot, too.

Writing lesson one: Be the first of you, not the next of another.

I was a pale imitation of Stephen King and that was obvious in my writing. The stories had imagination, but the writing was terrible – there, I said it, and so should you. Recognising that you are not all you could be, or that you are heading in the wrong direction is key to taking yet greater steps along the pathway to success. This is not to be confused with experimentation, because that is key also, but trying to copy another writer will get you no further than fan fiction. It took a university lecturer to point this problem out to me, and the manner with which he did this changed my life forever. (My writing life, at least).

Writing lesson two: Read EVERYTHING!

My university lecturer told me to go away in the summer holidays and look up a man called RAY BRADBURY. Who the hell is that? I thought, having never heard of him before. Luckily I was good at following advice, and I did what I was told.

I purchased a copy of The Golden Apples of the Sun, an anthology of short stories by Mr Ray Bradbury, and I consumed the lot in under a week. I was amazed. His stories were written decades earlier yet were more relevant now than they’d ever been. The imagination behind them, the fantasy and sci-fi blend that he pulled off so well, the poetic nature of his writing that just flowed from the page stunned me beyond belief. I had found my muse. When ever I read one of his stories my own imagination kick-started into life. His words were the fuel for my thoughts, and I was unstoppable. The first stories I ever had published were born from my Bradbury Buzz!

That is not all, however. Not only was Ray Bradbury a terrific writer, he was an inspirational speaker too. The interview with Ray Bradbury below gave me the get up and go to write my story A View Through a Window (Story 2 on my homepage) and that also went on to be published.

He talks of writing everyday and reading everyday. During his interview above he sets a challenge to all budding writers. Read a short story a day, for every day of your life. Unrealistic, you say? Well, yeah, okay, I kind of agree. I managed to go for 3 month doing just that but I lacked the discipline to keep going. That isn’t to say that I didn’t learn a lot. Filling your mind with so many words and stories is invaluable, and I challenge you to try it and tell me you aren’t the better writer for it.

Anyway, I’ve talked enough. What I wanted to say was Thank You. Thank You Ray Bradbury, God rest your soul, for you have inspired me and made me the writer I’ve become today.

Maybe one day my novel will sell and I will be able to spread his message further, but until then this will have to do.

If you want to be a writer of fiction, whether short stories or novels, watch the interview below and read Ray Bradbury’s anthologies. You’ll thank me for it once, then thank him for a lifetime.

If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.

Ray Bradbury

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