Like Minded People

Over the years I have been part of reading groups in various parts of the country.  It’s always a good way to discuss ideas, characters, themes, plot and literature. There’s always something that someone else notices that you’ve never picked up on before. It’s a great way to expand your reading choices and there’s always something that someone mentions that you may not totally agree with but that’s what makes the discussions so interesting. There are reading groups everywhere, even Richard and Judy, Radio 2 and Simon Mayo have their own groups for national audiences. I still love reading but I’m trying to focus on my writing. Because of this I really wanted to find a Creative Writing Group.

I suppose I could have enrolled in a Creative Writing course evening class but this just struck me as too formal.  I wanted a friendly group where I could share ideas, develop my writing skills and discover new writers or authors. Most importantly I wanted the group to be specifically for authors who are interested in writing for children. Mmm, easier said than done.  

Despite trawling the net for what seemed like a year (a couple of weeks in reality) I couldn’t find any groups to fit the bill. If I had wanted groups for adult fiction, Sci-fi, or even teenage fiction there was no shortage. I decided to extend my search further and as my preferred writing style is poetry, I started to include those in my search too.  Even that drew a blank. The closest was a group that met every few weeks who stated and I quote here “bring a piece of writing every week for appraisal”.  Appraisal! If any word is going to strike the fear of God into anyone it is that word. Now I realise that if you are going to write you have to be prepared for criticism and praise in equal measure, but the word appraisal just left me cold. To hand over your writing to people to tear to bits is an act of bravery and one that needs some support. Needless to say I didn’t go!

A few weeks later I was having a cup of tea with my friend Anna.  Like me. she is a creative soul and a bit of a wordsmith. During our chat I was lamenting the lack of creative writing groups for those with a real interest in writing for children.  I can’t remember who first suggested it but suddenly we found ourselves discussing the idea about setting up our own group.  Unlike some ideas that take place over tea, this one really took off. We were both really enthusiastic about the idea. More importantly and you’ll have to excuse the terrible pun, we seemed to be reading from exactly the same page about what we wanted from the group. We were also very clear about what we didn’t want from the group.

What We Wanted From the Group:

  • A friendly, relaxed atmosphere
  • A chance to meet like minded people to discuss children’s books and what makes them good.
  • Opportunities to share our writing but only if we felt comfortable.
  • To share ideas for stories/themes/characters/plots etc
  • To offer helpful and supportive feedback to anyone who asked for it.
  • Tea, biscuits and other chocolate treats!

What We Didn’t Want From the Group

  • Pressure to submit a piece of writing for ‘appraisal’
  • Pretentious chat about anything

And so last week our first meeting happened.  We’re a small group (just 7 if everyone can make it) with a shared interest in children’s books and stories. At the moment it is all female but men are very welcome too. The thing that struck me most about the group is that our jobs (paid and voluntary) have all got books and literature at their core. Some of us work or have worked specifically with children, some of us have children, some of us have returned to Uni to study books and writing further. I suppose what I’m trying to say is we’re all like minded people. We truly value what books have to offer everyone and that is key.

As it was the first session, we didn’t share writing. Instead, we needed to get to know each other a bit and find out which children’s books have made a lasting impact on us. In some ways it was quite a nostalgic meeting as some of the group had brought books from their own childhood. The books up for discussion were
                                     Miffy by Dick Brune

Following the discussions about the books we came to the conclusion that the following are very important to consider when writing for children
  1. Illustrations. We all agreed that the illustrations were key in the picture books and it’s only as the content becomes more suited to older children that the illustrations are overtaken by the words.  Illustrations often contain their own little stories. This is something I’d like to explore in future sessions.
  2. Characters. All of the books we had chosen to discuss had very clear characters for the reader to relate to. Children don’t care if the main character is an animal, alien, human, stick or otherwise, they just want to feel that this is someone they would go and play with.  
  3. Adventure. Or to put it another way…plot. As an adult reading a child’s book it can be easy to forget that basic every day events can seem like an adventure to children.  Miffy’s book was about a very simple trip to the beach but when you are 4 or 5 a trip to the beach is a big deal, especially if you live in land locked Birmingham or Manchester. Some of the books we discussed had very clear adventures that could only exist in the imagination but that is what makes them great. We (and most children too) know that the little boy couldn’t really use his blue balloon to fly to the moon but that doesn’t stop it being a great story. Use of imagination is really important.
  4. Words and Vocab. Two of the books chosen (The Stick Man and Cross Rhinoceros) are written in rhyme.  This appeals because of the rhythm. The words take you on a journey through the story.  Similarly the vocabulary and words used in the Faraway Tree really pull the reader in. The description of the lands at the top of the tree really paint a picture that make up for the lack of illustrations in the book.
  5. Atmosphere. This is important too.  The Night Pirates really sets the tone of the book using the illustrations and the actual shape of the words to set the scene.  Just by looking at the different font styles you are drawn into the night time world that belongs to the pirates.
This is not the definitive list and I’m sure we’ll add to it during the following weeks but we all felt it was a good starting point. In order to write you’ve got to understand what your audience wants.  For this reason every week we will start with a quick discussion about a children’s book we’ve brought. 

So what about the writing I hear you ask!  Before you start thinking this is just a discussion group for children’s books I must reveal our task for next time.  A theme is always a good starting point and to keep it seasonal we are basing our writing around Bonfires and fireworks. We’re going to bring a piece of writing or an idea for a story/character to discuss around the group. Although this may sound like the appraisal I was so determined to avoid, I like to see it as friendly discussion with like minded people. Either way, I’m really looking forward to it.  

For more info about our Creative Writing Group or if you would like to join search for Little Yarns Writing Group on Facebook.

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