Monday, 9 October 2017

#BathKidsLitFest Recap #1: Amy Wilson, Sarah Driver & Jess Butterworth speaking about how to write for children and teens


The lovely people at the Bath Kids Literature Festival were so kind as to provide me with tickets to three events and blog about them! I can't thank them enough for this wonderful opportunity!

The first talk I attended was on Thursday evening and it was the "Learning to Write for Young People" panel. Chaired by Julia Green and featuring debut authors Amy Wilson, Sarah Driver and Jess Butterworth, the three wonderful authors discussed how they got inspiration for their books, imparted some writing tips, detailed what happened after they had submitted their manuscript and spoke about the importance of writing for young people. I absolutely LOVED the event! It was so insightful and inspiring...walking out of the Guildhall's doors into the crisp October air with a signed book in my hand and a head full of dreams, I felt like maybe I could achieve my dream of publishing a book after all. It was wonderful. 

Now, I took quite a lot of notes during the event (approximately equaling 450 words) and I'm applauding my past self for doing that as now I can bring you some of my experience. I'm hoping that by reading this post you will feel inspired by some of the wisdom shared on the stage that night and you'll feel like you can write a book, your voice matters and you can create something brilliant that will help other young people alike make some sense of the world. I feel like that was the core part of the talk that evening. Indeed, one of the first questions Julia Green asked the brilliantly talented trio is why choose to write for young people? It's a simple question with a lot of depth and I found the authors' answers to that question quite thought-provoking and eye-opening. Jess Butterworth, author of Running on the Roof of the World, said she felt like she'd been a young person longer than she'd been an adult, she wanted to grasp the thoughts, feeling and experiences of being twelve again and create a sense of "wonder" in her readers, which I really resonated with. I feel like it's so important to bring to life the inner child that the years have suppressed in us, to help us maintain that innocent, joyful and hopeful viewpoint that seems to diminish as we become adolescents. It's so important that adults writing for young people really capture that feeling of being a child and write it with a genuine voice, that they feel like they're reading a book they can relate to and they, like Jess said, feel that brilliant sense of wonder when they read.

Sarah Driverauthor of The Huntress trilogy, gave an impactful answer. In her stunning response, Sarah addressed the harsh criticism children's writers face and the harmful viewpoint many people possess, that writing 'just' a children's novel is a starting point until you can write an adult novel. I loved that Sarah addressed that, as even being a reader of children's books and Young Adult can cause several snide remarks. After confronting that issue, she eloquently phrased her powerful response. She writes for children because it's fun and children matter, they deserve high-quality literature. They need books to help them navigate the world, which I so agree with as books have taught me so much about the world and shaped the person who I am today. She describes how children are in this magical transition stage and we need to write books that celebrate childhood.

Amy Wilson, author of A Girl Called Owl, highlighted the importance of how reading can give children an escapism, which I 100% agree with. She spoke about how she really got into reading after she experienced the death of someone very close to her and how it helped her so much. I wanted to shout "YES!" when she said that because, as someone who suffers from severe anxiety, reading really helps all that fall away for a little while. She also mentioned how children go through huge changes at certain points in their lives and how it helps them to see characters experiencing changes in their lives, too. Both Sarah and Amy touched on the notion that by representing changes and danger in a fantasy land can help children understand and familiarise themselves with those concepts in a safer environment: books.

Julia Green then asked the authors what they're currently reading, some of their favourite books and if they read whilst they are in the process of writing a book. Amy Wilson and Sarah Driver both mentioned a very important thing: it's okay to be published when you're older. It's okay to not be published by the age of 16 or 17 or 18. Don't pressure yourself to have a publishing deal by a certain age, I thought that was a very important thing to mention. Amy Wilson also said she prefers not to read whilst she's in the process of writing a book as it can affect her confidence, which I can totally understand! I also like how she expressed, in a way, that every word we read, we absorb and we carry that into our own writing. It reminds me of the idea that we are the sum of everything we read, all the ink we've brushed our hands and eyes over through the years are running through our veins, moulding us and helping us to shape our own literary creations. 

Sarah Driver took a different approach, she reads a lot whilst she's writing - and for good reason too! It shows her that it can be done, you can write, you can publish a book. It's not an impossible feat...if they can do it, why can't you? Jess Butterworth also shared a nugget of wisdom - "don't just read as a reader, read as a writer". Be more analytical, assess how they craft their sentences, how they pace their book...I think that's such a fantastic piece of advice and definitely something I'll try with the next book I read! 


The authors then spoke about how they got inspiration for their novels and discussed how they approached world-building. It was so interesting hearing about how each author found inspiration for their novel. Jess Butterworth said she got a strong sense of a setting first - that was the initial thing that came to her. It was fascinating hearing about her travelling to Tibet for her research and trying to paint the backdrop of her novel in an authentic light, as well as try to get the historical events featured in the book as accurate as possible and represent the nonfiction elements correctly. As I said, one of the other questions asked was how the authors managed the world-building and setting in their story and Jess said she went to experience the country, she jotted down many of her experiences there and used that for her book. I don't know about you, but going to Tibet sounds like fascinating research!

Both Sarah Driver and Amy Wilson had the voices of their character pop in their head quite randomly and they both wrote sentences from their books out of the blue - some of the ideas just came so randomly, so suddenly and so intensely. I absolutely loved Sarah's description of the distinct image of a boy standing on a book against a starry sky and how that was one of the pieces that helped her with her novel. I found it very encouraging when she said the little pieces might all just piece together eventually. At the moment I have several elements I want to put into my next WIP, but I'm not quite sure how it's all going to combine...so I found that really encouraging! In response to the world-building question, Sarah wanted to get as tactile as possible. She experienced new things such as going on ships and going to Iceland to create a very vivid experience of ships and seas. Amy Wilson's's world-building research didn't involve travelling but, instead, she took inspiration from the natural world and all the wonders she'd seen it display over the years. I remember when I read A Girl Called Owl, one of the things I loved - and was enchanted by - was the stunning descriptions of the natural world. I loved hearing about how all their different experiences shaped the settings in their books!

Lastly, the authors talked about their writing and publishing processesthe trials of writing a second book, connecting with other writers and they shared some wise, helpful advice to other aspiring writers. Amy Wilson said her draft took around three months and at first, she was more of a pantser but then she started planning and that worked for her, but it took her awhile to get to that point. Sarah Driver agreed that becoming a writer who plans is helpful. I really liked what Jess Butterworth said, that by her writing and finishing the first draft that's how she found the actual story, which I found as quite a motivator to KEEP WRITING.


They also addressed the issue of writing being quite a solitary activity and the importance of connecting with other writers to keep you motivated and encourage you. Both Jess Butterworth and Sarah Driver praised writers groups - stressing the point that you need to click with the people in them, you need to learn how to take criticism but you also need to be aware of people who aren't beneficial to you or your writing, people who aren't "healthy" for you. I also liked that Amy Wilson addressed the fact that writing can be lonely and it can feel like it's driving you slightly crazy at times. It's good to recognise when you need time away from your WIP and be with other people or even just yourself, away from the writing.

The three debut novelists also spoke about writing the second book and I liked that they didn't sugarcoat the difficulty of writing book 2. Sarah Driver said it can be pressuring, you feel as if your skin is being "turned inside out" and how it's hard sharing the things you love with editors/agents etc. I really liked that she mentioned this as my next WIP is going to feature a lot of me and my experience with anxiety...and it's going to feel as if I'm exposing my darkest corners to the world. It's terrifying. Sarah also said that each time you start a book, it's like starting over again but you just need to allow yourself to get immersed in the story.

Lastly, they shared their advice. Amy summed it up nicely by saying "finish it", she stressed the importance of just finishing it, which is a simple piece of advice that I feel we often need to be reminded of. Sarah said make yourself feel something whilst you're writing, "write the book that you want read". I love that piece of advice - write what you want to read. Jess highlighted the importance of keeping a notebook, jotting down thoughts, interesting conversations and a variety of things that could bring you inspiration. I think this is such a brilliant idea as there is a lot of inspiration one can draw from everyday things happening around them! 


After the event, I went into the foyer to get a book and meet one of the authors. I only had enough money to get one book so I chose Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth because TIBET and YAKS!! I have read A Girl Called Owl and I have Sea out from the library, but I would like to purchase Amy and Sarah's books sometime! I really want to support them because all three of the authors just seemed so nice and I kind of wanted to be their best friend after listening to them talk! 

The event was incredible. I can't adequately describe how much the panel inspired, encouraged and motivated me. I felt chills at some of the insightful things they said and I loved how through their answers, I could just feel how much they loved reading, writing and just books in general, really. I didn't realise how much I needed their words of wisdom until I heard it. Thank you so much to these three authors for making me feel like I can write and maybe even be published one day! If there's one thing I really took away from the talk it was DON'T GIVE UP. Finish it and don't give up.

Thank you so much to Bath Festivals for organising me a ticket to the event - it's probably one of the best literary talks I've ever attended! 

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