How to write a book, by Griselda Heppel
I’ve done the writer thing. Written four chapter and a synopsis, found an agent, sniffed snobbishly when they insisted on a pink sparkly cover and, er, shelved the project. So I am in no way qualified to give advice on how to write a book!
I tell who is though – Oxford-based Griselda Heppel(above), cool lady, plucky self-publisher and, let’s not forget, award-winner of People’s Prize for Children’s Fiction 2013. Griselda’s second novel The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst came out this week ( ‘brilliant’, according to my 12 year old year bookworm child). So Griselda has come up with some tips on how to write a book because – believe it Muddys – we’ve all got one in us, sparkly cover or not. Over to you, G.
How to write a book – it’s, er, easy! By Griselda Heppel
Er, no it’s not. Or rather, writing a book in itself may be easy; but writing a good book – one that other people might want to read – is a little more challenging. And perhaps most challenging of all is writing a children’s book, since a) you’re competing with all those other kinds of entertainment open to kids nowadays and b) no child will continue with a book out of duty or politeness and why should they? You have to grab them from the start.
So what do you need to write a book, for kids or otherwise?
- A really good idea for a story. This won’t come all at once. The plot for my latest book, The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst, came out of the fact that I wanted to write a children’s version of the Faust legend, in which a man sells his soul to the devil in exchange for his heart’s desire. I imagined a geeky 13 year-old boy, beset by problems, stumbling across a 16th century diary giving instructions on how to summon supernatural aid… and the story, involving Elizabethan magic, demons and treachery, grew from there.
- Rewrites and rewrites and rewrites. The first draft is always terrible. Even great, highly successful writers will confirm this. They won’t have to do as much rewriting as I do (being rather more experienced!), but they still have to do some. Writing is a craft that has to be learnt, like any other.
- Readers to try the book out on (beta readers). Family is useful – and my children get more critical as they grow older – but you also need views from people unconnected with you, who won’t worry about hurting your feelings. Some authors get useful constructive criticism from writers’ groups. I don’t belong to one of these but I submitted both The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst and my first book, Ante’s Inferno, to Cornerstones Literary Consultancy http://cornerstones.co.uk/. Their thoroughly professional critiques helped me tighten the pace, improve the quality of my writing and correct structural problems that I hadn’t realised were there. Both books are much the better for it.
- Take the criticism! It’s a painful process. Critical comments can be hard to take on board at first, but you want your book to be the best it can possibly be, and advice from professionals in the field is invaluable.
- Accept the praise! Feedback from the people you’re writing for is also important: in my case, 9 – 14 year-olds. By the time Ante’s Inferno was published, it had already been read and loved by around 40 children, so I knew it worked as a story. This was borne out when the book won the Children’s category of the People’s Book Prize – the only prize judged entirely by the public http://www.peoplesbookprize.com/winners2012.htm . Knowing so many readers had voted for Ante’s Inferno was the most wonderful feeling in the world. And finally….
- Chocolate. Obviously. See? Nothing to it.