My Writing Process Blog Tour

Hello and thanks to Jacqueline Jay for tagging me. You can read her post on the blog tour about writing urban fantasy for teens here. We met at The Golden Egg Academy weekend workshop a couple of months ago and I'm flattered that she asked me to join her on the #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour.

1. What am I currently Working On?

Smith Brass
The Smiths

I’m relieved to say that I’m now in the incubator at The Golden Egg Academy working on my first middle grade fiction - a mystery set in the present day with a hint of magic from the past - about The Smiths, a family with roots in a West Country village, where even the dogs have secrets.

I've also just finished writing and illustrating two new picture books.

2. How Does My Work Differ From Others Of Its Genre?

I write with words and pictures for children with a focus on unusual characters in recognizable settings. I’m a sucker for drama and dialogue. I celebrate grandmothers, dogs and builders and flip fairytales on their heads – or do I celebrate fairytales, dogs and grandmothers and flip builders on their heads?

3. Why Do I Write What I Do?

I blame the puppets - they have a way of making me talk. Oily Cart – one of UK’s leading Children’s Theatre companies trained me as a puppeteer when I performed with them for several years. My puppetry led me to performing and writing scripts for children’s TV programmes and I wrote my first 1:30 minute ‘food’ themed story for a TV producer’s job application. I didn’t take the job but I somehow got the idea that the story could be a book – it was rejected 11 times (I know now that’s not so many) but I gave up on that and decided to make a dummy of another. My first picture book, HIC! was published by Bodley Head at Random House.


As a kid, reading was a safe place for me to practise adventure.

Now - writing for older children is a chance to explore that part of my childhood imagination and history.

4. How Does My Writing Process Work?

I had a nice random rhythm going (I’d wait for an idea – rewrite until my nose bled and then submit the story) until that SCBWI Writers’ Day of 2007 when David Almond showed us ‘How to turn the mess in your head into a novel.’ I went to his workshop because I love Skellig. Not because I thought of myself as a writer (I made picture books – where’s the writing in that?!).


On that day, David Almond invited us to 'be someone else,' begin with the facts and ask questions:

What are you scared of?

What do you hope for?

What is your greatest desire?

What is the astonishing thing that happened last week?

Who is important to you?

Why do you keep remembering the man in uniform?


Then I wrote the opening sentence.


Desk at Dunford House
Writing Longhand

I had all my answers but I didn’t pick up the story until my first SCBWI writers’ retreat at Dunford House in 2013 where I handwrote 5,000 words without thinking.

I battled with the impostor syndrome as soon as I arrived and sat at the writing desk - where Dickens had left his visitor card - and I wrote for half an hour to prove that I'm going on a writers' retreat and I'm not scared!


Prague Town Centre - Street - photo Sue Eves
Taking Kafka's Walk To School

I’d been living with The Smith story for these years before a trip to Prague sparked a series of new thoughts. I’d read Kafka’s account of his horror of going to school and I found the doorways and imagined him clinging to the columns on street corners. I remembered my own fears.


I found the grand piano and played the tune my mum had taught me – the same one her dad had taught her. I recalled my consolations.

Note Books For Middle Grade Novel
65,000 Words on the Shelf

A few days after the retreat, I met David Almond at a book launch and told him that I’d started the story I had begun thinking about at his workshop. He was encouraging. “Write 5,000 words every weekend for the next 12 weeks and you’ll have your story.” I tweeted the next day - #challengeaccepted. And I finished my 65,000 word first draft 12 weeks later.

The most astonishing thing I learned was that the pace was right. I didn’t immerse myself in writing round the clock as I have done before (and mashed my brain). It was good to have a week between the 2/3-day writing spells to allow the work to sink in and the story to evolve. And on the other 2/3 days I drew and painted for my picture books. I also learned to write everywhere. Dunford House retreat had libraries, a drawing room, a conservatory, a music room and a garden. I wrote outside and in all the rooms - in my tiny gloomy room - even under the stairs.

I wrote in longhand with black ink because I could write without thinking or editing. Looking back at my notebooks – I’m amazed that I hardly crossed out anything. I typed up at the end of each ‘weekend’ resisting the temptation to edit.


I approached my picture books in a new way – without fear – I just drew and wrote and experimented. I found a new confidence in my working process.


Many thanks to all the generous authors and illustrators who have shown me new ways of working in the last few years:

David Almond, Ian Beck, Lucy Christopher, Lucy Coats, Alexis Deacon, Yoko Tanaka and yes Nikki Gamble, illustrator, I include you.


And Next:

It's with great excitement that I'm tagging 3 writers on #MyWritingProcess blog tour:

1. Supercomic, Sarah McIntyre – we met at SCBWI long before she sailed off around the children’s book world with Philip Reeve.

2. Anita Loughrey, one of the most prolific writers of children’s fact and fiction books that I know - she is also membership co-ordinator British SCBWI.

3. Jeff Povey – his name jumped into my Twitter feed and I thought, hello – what’s he up to? 10 years ago we had exchanged studio gossip in BBC TV scriptwriter land. Now he’s on my YA radar with his first books at Simon & Schuster.


Sarah and Anita will be posting on their blog on the tour on Monday 12th May


Sarah McIntyre - Author Illustrator
Sarah McIntyre

lllustrator and writer Sarah McIntyre makes picture books and comics with two other artists in an old police station – complete with jail cells! – in Deptford, south London. She loves piling stuff on her head and for one of her last book launches (Oliver and the Seawigs) she wore a six-foot-tall Marie-Antoinette-style wig made entirely from purple cling film. Right now she’s getting reading to launch two new books, the highly illustrated chapter book Cakes in Space with Philip Reeve, and Jampires, a picture book with David O’Connell. Both Philip and Dave are great friends and she loves the collaborative nature of working with them; throwing around story ideas, drawing comics together, doing joint festival events. Her greatest recent achievement is learning with Philip how to play one song on the ukulele and immediately taking it on stage. Check out her blog, which she updates frequently:

Photo Anita Loughrey
Anita Loughrey

Anita Loughrey likes to call herself a ‘freelance writer’ as she will put her hand to writing almost anything. She has even tried to write erotica but the only thing she really achieved there was giggling a lot! She has over 50 books published, which are mostly teacher resources and children’s illustrated fiction and non-fiction for the education market. She also has a column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum called, Research Secrets, about writers and their research.

Jeff Povey, writer
Jeff Povey

Jeff Povey

Scriptwriter with around 250 credits including EastEnders, Casualty, Silent Witness. Author of The Serial Killers Club published by Warner Books in the U.S. Most recently the author of SHIFT, the first in a YA trilogy published by Simon & Schuster.

Comments: 2 (Discussion closed)
  • #1

    Sue Hyams (Tuesday, 06 May 2014 08:48)

    Oh, Sue, this is wonderful! I love reading about your writing journey and, hey, I was there with you for part of it! :-)

    Good luck with the story and the Golden Egg! I look forward to hearing more about the Smiths!

    And thank you for the idea - 5,000 words a weekend is something I must try.


  • #2

    Sue Eves (Tuesday, 06 May 2014 09:20)

    You were - and still are, Sue Hyams.

    Thanks and good luck on your journey too!