Can anyone write...?
Yes, they can! Writing is about telling stories: a novel is a long story; a poem is a special sort of short story. When you're talking with someone, or speaking on the 'phone, even sending a text or a tweet, you are often telling some kind of story, aren't you? So - being human means being a storyteller.
Now for two important questions... 1) Is your story interesting enough for other people to want to read it, if you go to the trouble of writing it down? 2) Would it work best as a poem, as a short story, or as a novel*?
If you believe you've a good story to share, try writing it down; then, put it to one side for while. When you pick it up again, ask yourself - is it really a good story? If the answer is "Yes", then you must next ask, "Fine - but could it be told better?" In other words, could you improve the story? If you think so and, very importantly, if you decide you should improve it before you try showing it to somebody else, then you are on the way to being a writer...
...And if, when you listen to a friend reading your story out loud, it doesn't sound the way you wanted it to - you are hopefully on the way to being a writer who cares about punctuation!
A last thought: if your readers discover something within your story that you hadn't realised was there - that's when the writing process gets really interesting.
* Or, indeed, as a graphic novel? Whilst I know nothing about the genre, it certainly deserves a mention.
Frequently asked questions
1. How long did it take to write the books?
A Summer Break took two and a half years, requiring twelve complete re-drafts; with To Marloes, With Love it took eighteen months to compile the poems, draw the illustrations, sort out the music, and finalise the layout.
2. Do you have a writing regime?
I usually write (or edit) all morning; ideally, the afternoon sees me busy outdoors. After supper is a good time for reviewing the day's efforts.
3. Do you have a key recommendation for aspiring writers or poets?
Wherever you go, always be ready to capture ideas: I carry a notebook, pencils, and a digital pocket memo.
4. Do you ever write straight to screen?
Hardly ever. Normally, I write my first draft longhand, double-spaced; often, that text is already heavily revised by the time I reach the bottom of the page.
5. How do you judge what you've written?
Reading it out loud is the best test of both words and punctuation. Even better, one puts newly-composed passages (or poems) to one side for a few days, then reads them out loud.
6. Do you use any authoring software?
No; I just use Microsoft Word, with useful 'short cut' abbreviations stored in Autocorrect. If I'm happy transcribing my first draft wholesale, then I use Dragon voice recognition software.
I use the computer standing up: a great aid to alertness. Perhaps I easily got used to this because I usually paint standing up, and do much illustration work standing at a drawing board.
7. Do you ever listen to music while writing?
Never: it's far too distracting!
8. Why didn't you illustrate A Summer Break all the way through?
My Tasting Panel said they'd rather imagine the characters and settings I described; however they decided some maps would be good, and drawings were needed to illustrate the boat manouevres - and the coal washing "development programme"!
Reading Group Questions
1) If you're old enough to remember the 1980s, does the book " feel right" for that era? Or, if you aren't, did you find it easy to get used to lives lived without all those devices we nowadays consider essential?
2) How good a teacher was Miss Gwinear a) in her own time? b) by modern standards?
3) (Probably better suited to younger readers) While reading the book, did you begin to imagine yourself as one of the characters? If so - whom, and why?
4) One of Chris's Tasting Panel members found Heather and Sophy rather too idealised to be easily believable - no moods, no jealousies, no flaring tempers. In defence of them, he argued that both girls were so keen to bond as friends, neither would do anything that risked "rocking the boat"; what do you think?
5) Jack Sound: brave veteran - or past it, oversentimental, too influential, and in the end just very lucky?
6) Which of the animal characters was most important?
7) Was the book's saddest event too sad?
8) Which, for you, was the happiest moment?
9) A Summer Break is strongly pro-tomboy; can you suggest any reason why it shouldn't have been?
10)Was the story improved by those foreword and postscript sections?