The second Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts was held at kings College London with 70 events and 100 writers, artists and speakers being held over the weekend of May 28-31st 2015. It’s a perfect festival for expats like myself who feel disconnected from the literary happenings of home, and also as a way for small (and big) authors to bring their works to a bigger stage.
I had received a discount offer to a workshop of my choice, and I chose Capturing Young Hearts: Writing for the middle grades with Jesse Blackadder. The course was to focus on developing skills needed to write for the age group of 8-12 including how to create engaging characters, creative exercises and general advice.
Yes, in case you’re wondering, Jesse Blackadder really was born with that surname. Her first novel After the Party made the Australian Book Review list of favourite Australian novels in 2010. The Raven’s Heart won the Varuna HarperCollins Manuscript Development Award and was published in Australia in 2011 and in the UK, USA and Canada in 2012. Chasing the light: A novel of Antarctica, which she wrote as part of a Doctor of Creative Arts, was published in Australia in 2013. Jesse won the 2011-12 Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship and the 2012 Guy Morrison Prize for Literary Journalism. She has been a writer in residence in Alaska, Antarctica, outback NSW and Byron Bay. Her first children’s novel Stay: the last dog in Antarctica is coming out in 2013.
There were 5 people, including myself, for the workshop, small and intimate which is perfect. I really enjoyed listening to two of the women in the workshop . One who had finished her first historical novel set in Australia (but she lives in England) and wanted to write a story for her 2 young daughters, and another who was interested in turning stories into more comic or cartoon but first wanted the basics of storytelling.
The workshop started with character, then we were asked to write about a character from our childhood, what makes them memorable/perfect central characters to us. Then we picked Harry Potter and just focused on his character and what makes him ‘real’ to a reader. We did some exercise with our characters- free writing, action description to show how this character is ‘heroic’ in our story. Structure and some exercises on how to build tension or describe it all, reading it out as we went.
There was a young girl who, simply put, was bizarre. Her laptop wasn’t charged so she would rush off to charge it, she would argue with Jesse when offered advice, she sat on Facebook, and didn’t participate in any of the exercises. Overall I felt she was rather disruptive and it was noticeable in such a small group. I felt, by having one person who was almost resisting the lessons and advice of someone like Jesse brought the feeling down, and the time wasted on listening to her speak could have been so much more useful.
Jesse was wonderfully encouraging, she listened to everyone in turn, offered advice, no idea was too silly. Her positive energy was infections After the workshop she was there to sign books, and offered to email us her notes.
Tips and Tricks for Capturing Young Hearts
- A book for middle ages is around 100+ pages, 20,000-50,000 words.
- The character has to be strong and memorable – think Anne Shirley or Harry Potter
- The characters are learning about the world, their place in them, their own personal challenges
- The novel is driven by character and their strength
- Write the first draft, just see what happens. the structure can be built during the editing when you have something to work with, and it may take you in a different way or focus in on something you couldn’t see before.
- Write all the boring scenes of ‘drinking tea’ then cut it out when you edit, but it’s useful in a first draft to show you where there is a lull in the action
- Write all the backstory, write everything you think of and then cut it out in the next draft because it’s useful for you, the writer, to know things
- Keep raising the stakes of your story, and keep raising them ‘and then, and then, and then’
- Free writing exercises are useful- keep the hand moving, write whatever you want, write badly, don’t be afraid.
- Aspire to a writing routine and exercise your brain like any other muscle
- Useful writing books mentioned
- ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott
- ‘Writers Portable Mentor’ by Priscilla Long
- ‘The wild mind: living a writers life’ by Natalie Goldberg
This style of workshop I recommend for anyone wanting to learn more about how to write for a younger audience (as the title suggests) but i also recommend it for anyone needing encouragement, or a bit of a kickstart to get going. I took a story idea in with me that i had been playing with for a while, and I was then able to expand on it, make it work in a new light of the things I was learning. I also recommend you take an old fashioned pen and paper approach.
Disclaimer: Featured photos are saved from internet sources and are not the product of my own skills. All workshops/events are paid for by me and all reviews are mine from my own notes, opinions and experiences.