I love meeting other authors. For me, it’s very inspiring and gives me hope that I will one day be in a similar position. It’s incredibly hard work though and takes a lot of dedication, as my guest today will tell you.
Karen Inglis is a children’s author living in Barnes, London. She has sold around 7,000 copies of her popular time travel mystery The Secret Lake. It was even considered for adaption by CBBC. It’s so easy to fall in to a trap of rejections that leaves you wondering whether you have what it takes to write and it takes strength to overcome your fears and to believe in yourself. Authors like Karen prove that it can be done and I’ve asked her to gives us some valuable insights into her writing process for The Secret Lake and her later books.
How did you go about writing your first book, The Secret Lake?
The Secret Lake, went through many many drafts – well over 20 – before it was finally fit for publication. I started writing it without a plan – just a kernel of an idea that was sparked by children playing in the communal gardens of Notting Hill and Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park. All I knew is that it would involve the two children going back it time and meeting the children in their past time home – and that there would be a lake they had to row across. So I sat down and started to write and developed the story as I went along.
Much of that process was really exciting as characters and plot twists often presented themselves to me without asking – and I rather felt that I was watching a jolly good mystery movie. But there were also many difficult times when I just couldn’t work out where to go with it next — and got so tired!! And then when I finally finished it I realised that although the fundamentals of the story were very good, there was a huge amount that still needed fixing. So at that point I started outlining changes and putting them into practice. But even after that I knew I wasn’t happy…. something wasn’t working or convincing and I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.
It finally took a third party in the form of two trusted editor/bookworm friends to read it and reassure me that it was worth pursuing and on top make a few suggestions that spurred me on to come up with (after many more drafts and edits!) the final version. [Tip – avoid time travel if you can – you get into all sorts of pickles making sure things make sense!] And when it was ready I knew. And it was worth all the pain!
What did you learn from your first book that helped with your next and subsequent books?
I was determined to learn from my mistakes for my next book so I outlined Eeek! The Runaway Alien in advance — that really helped in terms of getting to the end of the first draft, but I still went through many iterations in order to get to the final MS. And once again I just ‘knew’ when it was ready. (If you don’t get that certain feeling then I’m afraid there is more work to do!)
What ‘help’ did you get along the way?
I never gave my books to more than a couple of people — I think that for me it would be confusing getting too many opinions. Ideally one wants to find a couple of people who are well read but also enjoy the sort of books that you do (just my opinion). I am always amazed at the Nosy Crow book club that I attend semi-regularly at how diverse people’s views are on the many fine traditionally published (sometimes award-winning) children’s books we read! In terms of taking in comments, it’s a bit like when trying to get the baby to sleep through the night — you listen to everyone’s suggestions and then do what works for you. You definitively need to feel that whatever changes you make are ones you believe in – and that may involve having to cut huge swathes or re-purpose huge chunks – and I’ve certainly been there and done that!
With my latest book, Walter Brown and the Magician’s Hat, I had doubts all the way along — even after many rewrites and even after getting positive feedback from 11 schoolchildren who read the near final draft and completed a questionnaire. So I hired a professional children’s book editor who pushed me the further mile to flesh out a couple of the characters. It was a relief, however, that she emphasised in her feedback that it really was just ‘light touch’ improvements that were needed. She didn’t tell me what these change should be – rather she pointed out where I could up the tension a bit more, and where she felt a couple of the peripheral characters might need rounding out. How I did this was up to me but it came very easily once I knew I had to do it and the changes really did make all the difference. And again I finally got to the magical moment of knowing the book was ready.
How do you decide when to stop editing – when it’s finally ready for publication?
I think you do know when you are done – or at least that you have done the very best you can and you feel satisfied with that. That doesn’t mean you don’t still have doubts – we all do all of the time.
I’d suggest that once you get to a point where you feel you’re as happy as you can be then consider paying for a structural editor to look at it for you if you’re still really unsure. I found mine for Walter Brown via the website Reedsy. (She worked for Harper Collins and others for many years.) I could tell from her profile CV that she was very thorough and would be very honest as well as (importantly) having the relevant interest in my sub-genre within children’s.
Karen’s books include:
The Secret Lake (for 8-11yrs) A a lost dog, a hidden time tunnel and a secret lake take Stella and Tom to their home and the children living there 100 years in the past.
Eeek! The Runaway Alien (for 7-10 yrs) Eleven-year-old Charlie Spruit opens his door to a football-mad alien who has run away to Earth to stay with him for the World Cup!
Walter Brown and the Magician’s Hat (for 7-9 yrs) When Walter inherits magician’s hat from his late Great-grandpa Horace on his 10th birthday he discovers that it has special powers.
Henry Haynes and the Great Escape (for 6-8 yrs) A fun illustrated chapter book, about a boy who tumbles inside his library book and gets caught up in a zoo escape plan.
Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep – a rhyming picture book for ages 3-5+
All of her book are available in print and as eBooks and Henry Haynes and the Great Escape is also just out as an audio book.
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