I’ve known Renita for a while now. Originally from America, Renita now lives in Wigtown, which the book town in Scotland, with the most stunning views across the estuary. When I’ve performed at the festival, the children have all been whipped up to a frenzy by Renita, who welcomes them in and “settles them down” [...]
Todays video is about the end of publishing as we know it, now that Amazon has taken over Marshall Cavendish and it has announced the Amazon Library System.
I was so overcome – I couldn’t write so I got Dragon Express To do the job for me. I love it, you have to talk in a slightly strange way but that doesn’t matter as my brain thinks in the same fashion!
I’m writing again, after a week of madness – Scribble! Scribble! Scribble!
Many of you who have followed my career will know that I’ve been playing with online and interactive stories for a long time. Once eBooks and apps got going, I kind of felt that I’d been there and done that. The one thing I’d learned was that there was no future in it for authors. eBooks are too easy to copy and pirate. It’s just not worth doing the work – except for the age-old reason of vanity. I’m trying to make a living!
But the iPad has made me look at things differently. I’m amazed how visceral is some of the criticism that gets hurled at Apple and the iPad. This comes from those who don’t want to pay for other people’s hard work, from tekkies who want to be able to fiddle about with your machine and fill it full of their code, like dogs weeing on lamp posts.
Those who love iPads – and boy do they love them – don’t want updates going on in the background. They don’t want anyone having control of their machine, changing the settings while they’re asleep. They want to be able to switch on and instantly get to grips with the job in hand – and that is what the iPad does, uncomplainingly, every time you swipe it on. It’s fast efficient and faithful.
And it doesn’t have Flash. That is THE main criticism – constantly repeated by those who don’t really know what Flash is. I’ve had an iPhone for about three years and I’ve not missed Flash at all. I used to be Flash’s greatest evangelist, but I get completely why Apple say no. Besides, HTML5 will soon do most of the things people miss from Flash.
I’m now using Flash to build my first iPhone App – That’s the only way you will get your Flash onto an iPhone or iPad. The coding in Flash as you experience it on the web makes it a competing operating system that allows anyone to do anything they like to your machine. People pay a premium for iPads precisely because it doesn’t have Flash and so stays as a safe as possible from outside interference.
As for ebooks, well, there is not a eBook reader yet that handles children’s picture books, where the text and pictures are so closely related, but the ipad app is perfect – which is why primary schools are beginning to swap to iPad. Easy to maintain, easy to use, transport and teach with, and a wonderful medium for Children’s books.
Having tried for so long and almost given up, I now have Shakespeare’s words of Julius Caesar ringing around my head:
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
These are very interesting times!
Whenever I do my mindmapping/plotting and planning sessions at schools, I always reach a point where I have to admit that the plot is really a bit rubbish. But, I explain, If I’d been doing it on my own at home, I’d be fairly pleased with what I’d done so far. (Only examiners could expect you to plot and write a story in the length of a school lesson – when did they last have a go themselves?) Plots need a bit of time to ferment and cook.
Having worked out a basic plot at home, I’d feel pretty satisfied with myself and go and have a long coffee break. But sometimes the plot just won’t come together – that’s when I go for a walk.
There is something about the rhythm of walking – the being on your own, but in the world, that seems to act as a brain emetic.
I’ve been humming and ha-ing about the plot for my fifth Olympia book for weeks now, finding all sorts of other little, very important jobs to do, other than get on with the story.
This morning I forced myself to sit down and really get on with it. I went back to the beginning and started plotting all over again. The rough plan started coming out much better than before, but where was the McGuffin? (The McGuffin was Alfred Hitchcock’s term for the bit the plot revolves around – the ah ha! bit that moves things on.)
I’d not planned to go on a walk this afternoon, as it was supposed to pour with rain, but I forced myself to brave the elements and set off, confident in the knowledge that I would get this thing sorted out. And sure enough, within quarter of an hour – bang! – it just popped into my head. I had taken a little notebook with me, so I wrote down the idea, in case I forgot it. Then I punched the air and, smiling and whistling happily, I continued my walk through the Forest, careless of the rain that had now started to fall.
That that moment was as good as a full day’s work, so anything else I get done today is a bonus.
Are you feeling mentally constipated – go out in the fresh air and un-bung yourself – it keeps you healthy too!
Yesterday, I spent the day at North Baddesley Infant School in Hampshire. It was a great day because I went there last year and so it was like coming home to old friends and I’d spent the night at a friendly B&B where I had stayed before as well. I’ve been living in impersonal hotel rooms for most of the last month so it was nice to be met by a friendly face – and I only had to drive a mile to the school!
I worked mostly with the two year one classes. We tried to work up a bit of a story about Ricky Rocket going on holiday. His family were meant to go to the holiday planet of Shoe, but got on the wrong rocket and ended up on the Planet Goo, filled with sticky people and unmentionable smells and substances!
Between us we wrote two versions of Ricky’s 24 hour stopover and made up Ricky Rocket style fact files about the two different planets. Some were disgustingly inventive!
The picture shows one of the sections of the story that I worked on with a group of five children, each taking a turn to write a section of the story. It wasn’t how I thought it would turn out, but I think it looks great. One of the children began writing on my Flipchart and the rest carried on. I think it looks great. Maybe there’s a whole new print format?!
We finished off with a mass Ricky Rocket drawing lesson in which all the children excelled themselves – well done!
Thanks everyone for making it a wonderfully enjoyable day and great to see you all again. Keep up the good work and I hope you finish off the stories!
My Olympia production schedule stares down at me from my pin board. There’s so much to do and yet things are progressing on time, so far. Next month I am hardly at home. I’m visiting schools and libraries all over the place, so I think the schedule will drift for a while, but I’m confident I can bring it back in line again.
As you can see the covers are all designed now and we are very happy with them. This week I finished the inside artwork for the first book, Run like the Wind, and sent them off to my publishers.
I’ve just now finished the first draft of the first draft of the fourth book, Throw for Gold. I’ll let it cook a bit and see how it is. I’m sure it will need some editing before I send it to my editor, even though I edit madly while I’m writing.
It turned out well from the short synopsis and the fairly detailed plan I had for the story. Half way through I decided to change a major scene and introduced a wonderful new character, Nestor, who cooks for the elite Athletes in Olympia. He’s a bit of a Jamie Oliver really. He can’t understand why everyone is so obsessed about sport when there is so much wonderful food in the world to be cooked and eaten.
I’m always amazed how characters appear out of nowhere and muscle in on a story. Nestor has really made the story much more interesting and added a new element of humour too.
Now – back to pencil sketch corrections for “Wrestle to Victory.”
You wouldn’t expect a child to make a movie if they had never watched TV or visited the cinema. You’d never expect a child to make something if they’d never seen the tools being used or had never encountered the raw materials before, so why, oh why do we expect children to be able to write when they don’t read and aren’t encouraged to by the primary Literacy Strategy?
In the last ten years or so, the Literacy Strategy, which has supposedly been raising literacy standards, has failed dismally. Standards rose slightly at the beginning, but you would expect that as teachers taught to the test. After that, nothing happened. Why? Because reading was not part of the Literacy Strategy.
Endless comprehension of selected texts – yes, but reading – no. A whole generation of primary teachers have been brought up with this nonsense. Surely they must be beginning to suspect that they were sold a pup?
A whole generation of children have been brought up not reading books for pleasure. Their teachers were not taught about children’s books or how to read them to class. At one Literacy Coordinator’s conference I went to, that was all about “talking”, I actually heard two teachers in conversation at my lunch table, discussing what an amazing idea it was to read stories aloud to children in class. They seemed baffled about where and when in the busy curriculum they would be able to fit in such a new concept and how they would do it!
Do you know, I’ve been to some schools where they ask me if I have any tips to help the children improve their writing. I looked around their bare, empty classrooms, where not one book was on display, and suggested they get the children to read books. They’d honestly not thought of that. If you don’t celebrate books and tell stories, how are children ever going to know about them and how are they ever going to know that they are important, if teachers aren’t bothered? Some teachers don’t read for pleasure themselves and are certainly unaware of the latest trends and bestsellers in children’s literature.
Writing is a difficult skill but we seem to think that if we throw enough phonemes and pronouns at it, somehow children will learn to write amazing, imaginative stories.
Writing comes from three sources: Firstly experience – how can children write about stuff if they haven’t experienced anything in their lives, if risk assessments stop museum visits and weekends away? Secondly, writing comes from seeing it being done, and that means reading books – whole books- long books with beginnings and middles and satisfying ends, that grip the child’s imagination, making them laugh and cry and want to seek out more – to find out what lies over the horizon. And thirdly, there is grammar and style. This can and should be taught, Grammar is important, it’s how we make sense of writing, but it is not how we write. Grammar is merely a tool, Experience and reading are the raw materials.
I wrote a story for Barrington Stoke, who publish for Dyslexics. The manuscript of Craig Mnure was sent out to a large test group and came back covered with suggestions for making the text easier to read. Interestingly, the further into the book, the fewer the comments – this was because the children “got my voice” after a while. The voice takes over from the difficulties of reading. The voice carries the story along, gripping the reader who, only caring about the story, is not aware that they are also working on their reading skills. Who cares about comprehension and split infinitives – they want to know what happens. The skill comes as a by-product of the enjoyment. Yes, learning really can be fun – just read a good book!
When you read and engage with a book, you see the writing being done, like an apprentice at his master’s elbow, learning the skills of the trade. You see how the writer puts the words and ideas together, and by reading the whole story, by a process of osmosis, the writing skills improve and the imagination begins to grow as writers present new horizons for children to aim for.
Maybe reading for pleasure sounds like too much fun? It can’t be educational if you are having fun! Surely literacy must have great dollops of misery to make it stick?
We take reading for granted these days. It’s something that is done to you and your supposed to be able to do it by the end of year six, when reading finishes and secondary education begins.
But reading is an incredibly complex skill and like all skills, it needs to be worked on to improve, and it needs to be kept up to maintain the skill level you are at. You will never improve your writing unless you read and see how it is done by others. You need to read good and bad writing to become a discerning reader and competent writer.
I visit many primary schools. There is something about the schools that put a great emphasis on reading – an atmosphere the moment you walk over the threshold. They tend to be run by old-fashioned head teachers, (not managers, but teachers), who tell me that they have to explain the idea of reading for pleasure to new, young teachers and let them know that reading for pleasure is their school’s priority. It doesn’t matter where the school is or what kind of catchment area it has, the emphasis on reading infuses the school, the curriculum and the results with excitement, success and achievement.
Children who are proficient readers become self-starters, confident in their ability to read, research and find out on their own.
It is not a teacher’s job to cram stuff into children. Teacher’s are there to open children’s eyes and raise their sights, to facilitate the quest for knowledge, to create young people who can stand on their own two legs and and find things out for themselves. This is achieved by teaching the one and only really necessary skill – READING – every other school discipline comes seconadary to reading, most are unteachable without the ability to read.
If you want to raise your children’s writing standards, let them read books – hundreds of them. Blow the school budget, build a library, make it the heart of the school, have a branch library in every class room.
Put books and reading for pleasure first, stand back and watch your children grow and blossom like fireworks going off. I’ve seen it happen in many schools, then the head leaves and the grey miasma of Literacy descends once again as the vision leaves the building.
Want to improve your children’s writing standards? Let them read books!