How to become a Great Writer…advice from an 11 year old

April 26, 2021 at 10:14 am | Posted in Top Writing Tips | Leave a comment
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After my visit to Canadian International School in Hong Kong today by zoom, I thought I’d republish this post from 24 May 2016, about the young writer who featured in the picture at the start of my talk, Jemma Julian :

As an author of children’s books, perhaps one of the most frequent questions I get asked by kids is “How do I become a great writer?”. Now anyone who knows me will know what my answer will be: “You have to read LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of books!”

But I thought it would be interesting to find out from kids your age, who are already great writers, just how they’ve done it themselves!

In this post, I’d like to introduce you to Jemma Julian, from Sydney in Australia, who regularly wins a place in the top ten in my Clever Competitions! Her writing is wonderful, full of original ideas, fantastic words and great imagination, and I encourage you to look at the results of my Clever Competitions over the last three years (see tabs on the right hand column) to see examples of her work!

Jemma Julian 1

Here you can see Jemma posing with her signed copy of my Dark Horse Activity Book which she won when she came first in my Ode to my Favourite Tree Competition in 2014, when she was just 9 years old.

I wrote to Jemma last week to ask her some questions about what she does in her spare time, and I thought you’d be very interested to read her answers! Here, with Jemma’s permission, is what she told me, and I think it’s worth reading EVERY WORD of what she says :). I’ve highlighted in bold the bits I think are most important:

“In answer to your questions:

I write my current stories almost every few days, often on the weekends as I don’t always get enough time during the week. For just general writing, I mostly just to write back to emails and letters from my penpals and aunt, who I correspond with regularly.

 I mostly just write on the computer, as I find that typing is easier to read for me. I make my writing neat for letters to people, so that they can easily read them, but when writing stories I often have heaps of new ideas, thus my writing gets spikier, my letters not fully- formed, which makes it harder to read…

Yes, I keep a diary, and also a scrapbook diary, where I stick and paste things cut out of magazines, newspapers, or drawings I’ve done.

I suppose I have a writer’s notebook. I’ve actually never heard the term before, but I have a notebook which I’ve had since I was eight in which I’ve written stories, looked up words, written sentences for words, poems, written answers to questions for schoolbooks which don’t give space for answers and various other things I’ve done.

My other hobbies apart from writing stories are writing songs, (only just today I wrote music to a song I’ve written- the first time ever!), writing poems,writing letters, feeding the many birds which come to eat sunflower seeds in the backyard, playing the piano, drawing, dancing, swimming, reading as many books as I can, typography, calligraphy, ornithology, and climbing trees.

Here are my tips for other children to improve their writing:

  1. To write something everyday– it doesn’t even have to be a story! It could be an essay for school, a project about something you’re interested in, an email to a friend, even a letter to a relative long overdue!
  2.  To read whenever you can! I love reading, and even read at lunchtime, despite my parents’ not liking it! Books can give you the foundations for your own stories, ideas to weave into your stories, fantastically interesting words to use, (I need to thank you, Sarah, your word ‘splendiferous’ features regularly in letters, and I use ‘idiosyncrasies’ occasionally during speech), and much, much, much more.
  3. To edit, revise, and rewrite your stories again and again and again. Editing can be a bore, especially when you’ve put your heart and soul into a scene but then find it doesn’t work with the rest of the story, but still essential. Revising too, but still, finding a word miss spelled and correcting it makes me feel like I’ve saved the story from badly written words. Rewriting is fun! I love looking back into a story I wrote a while ago and thinking about all the things I’d like to change about it. 
  4. To ask for feedback. Writing a story on your own can be a bit monotonous as you can’t get other people’s views on your stories! You don’t have to ask only other writers for feedback- you could ask your parents, (if they’re not too busy), your friends, your school teachers, the kids in your class at school.
  5. To always jot ideas down, however silly you think they are. Some of the stories I consider masterpieces began from some crazy idea I had a year ago, which I wrote down in a notebook, to be discovered later and turned into a story.
  6. I also think that grammar is important too! A grammatically imperfect story isn’t always a good one. Read through your stories every once in a while to check them, and also experiment with little letters, colons, or even the odd bracket. I’ve found that just adding a comma in some cases fixes up a whole sentence!

 The answer to your question of ‘how much time do you spend reading books for leisure’ is WHENEVER POSSIBLE! As I said before, I read even at lunch!

I don’t play any computer games, though I used to once a week for an hour… Our television isn’t wired up to any stations, so I don’t watch it. Occasionally I will watch a movie with my family. I do use some social media. Since the national postage rate went up to a dollar- the slowest postage- I have mostly been emailing my penpals. I do also have Google+, but I mostly don’t really have any time to post things on it. All in all I mostly spend, (excluding writing stories), up to half an hour on the computer a day. I don’t often get emails though, normally about one or two a week, so that makes the time I spend on the computer shorter.  When I’m writing a story, the time spent on the computer gets larger, up to about two hours. I normally don’t just write though- I look up words I think could be used in my story, I research things to do with my story and check my emails.”

Soooooo….in a nutshell, the way Jemma has become a Great Writer is by:

  • writing something every day
  • having penpals
  • reading as many books as she can get her hands on
  • limiting the time she spends on digital screens to half an hour a day, except when she is writing a story, when she might spend up to 2 hours a day doing research, using her computer as a TOOL but not a toy
  • keeping a diary
  • keeping a writer’s notebook to jot down ideas for stories, special words etc
  • enjoying lots of different hobbies outside and inside the house
  • editing and revising her stories over and over again
  • practising her grammar!

So now you’re heard it from an expert who is still just 11 years old! If you can follow her advice, your writing is just going to get better and better! Thanks Jemma for all the fabulous tips! One day, I just know that we’re going to see your name up in lights!

You’re never too young to be published (or too old…)

April 26, 2021 at 10:09 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Here’s a post I published back on 29 September 2010 which I’m re-posting specially for Harrison at Canadian International School who wanted to know more about the world’s youngest published author! Here we go:

How old do you have to be to be published? This is a question that I often hear from kids. Many of you would love to have your stories published, but you’d rather not wait for another twenty years!

So I’ve done a bit of research and – guess what? The youngest person to ever have a book published was …


Dorothy Straight, 4 years old

Her name was Dorothy Straight. She was born in Washington DC (the capital of the United States of America) in 1958, and when she was just four and in pre-kindergarten, she wrote and illustrated a picture book called ” How the World Began” for her grandma. Her mum and dad thought it was good enough to be published…and it was! They sent it to Pantheon Books (a part of huge US publishers Random House)  who published it two years later in 1964.

And boys haven’t done too badly either!

The youngest published boy was Dennis Vollmer, born in Oklahoma in the United States in 1980, who wrote and illustrated a wonderful story about a stranded whale called “Joshua Disobeys” when he was just six years old, which was published by Landmark Editions in 1988.

At the other end of the scale, the oldest person who was ever published for the first time was Argentina Brunetti, an actress who was born in 1907 in Buenos Aires in Argentina (surprise, surprise!) and who had her first novel published at the grand old age of 98 just before she died in 2005!

Which all goes to prove that you’re never too young to be published, and you’re never too old either!

So get writing all of you – no excuses!!

A fabulous visit to Canadian International School with the Hong Kong Young Readers’ Festival!

April 26, 2021 at 10:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Wow! The Hong Kong Young Readers’ Festival is in full flow, and I’m very honoured to be invited again this year to visit schools around Hong Kong!

This morning I visited 125 students in Year 5 at Canadian International School Hong Kong by Zoom, with my Top 12 Tips on How to Become a Great Writer! We talked about some famous kids’ authors and what made them into great writers. We discussed top tips like freeing up time, rearranging the bedroom, keeping diaries and writers’ notebooks, reducing the time spent on social media and video games and – above all – radically increasing the time spent reading lots – and lots – and lots – of BOOKS! After my presentation we had a lot of fantastic questions from the students, who are all keen readers and writers themselves! Photos to come!

Thanks so much to teacher librarian Colleen Williams for hosting and to all the teachers and students who helped make such a fun session!

The Results are out in The Oxcellent Ox Tale Competition!

April 23, 2021 at 11:31 pm | Posted in Clever Competitions, Writing competitions for kids | 1 Comment
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From The Tale of Oswald Ox illustrated by Harry Harrison

Hooray! At last the results are out in my Oxcellent Ox Tale Competition! Thank you so much for your patience! It was horribly difficult to judge, with a fabulous 44 entries from 19 schools in 6 cities around the world: Brisbane, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney, Taiwan and Ely in the United Kingdom!

Congratulations to everyone who entered. And special congratulations to the Top Six in each of the Year 1 to 3 and Year 4 to 6 Categories, as well as some fabulous Honourable Mentions and Special Mentions!

Click on my Clever Competitions page right away to read the fantastic winning entries!

Places were as follows:

Year 1 to 3 Category

FIRST PLACE: Sophia Dennison, Year 3, French International School Hong Kong, 8 years old

SECOND PLACE: Luke Jackson, Year 3, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia, 8 years old

THIRD PLACE: Seraphina Zhuang, Year 3, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia 8 years old

FOURTH PLACE; Lillian Xue, Year 3, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia, 8 years old

FIFTH PLACE: Muyao Zhang, Year 3, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia, 8 years old

SIXTH PLACE: Freya Bainbridge, Year 3, Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong, 8 years old

HONOURABLE MENTION: Ivan He, Grade 3, Stamford American School Hong Kong, 8 years old


Leona Huang, Year 1, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia, 6 years old

Louise Pan, Year 1, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia, 6 years old

Year 4 to 6 Category

FIRST PLACE: James Bruser Zarin, Year 5, Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong, 10 years old

SECOND PLACE: Reva Kamath, Year 4, Discovery College Hong Kong, 8 years old

THIRD PLACE: Therese Li, Year 4, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia, 8 years old

FOURTH PLACE: Akshadha Madan, Year 5, Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong, 9 years old

FIFTH PLACE: Renee Wong and Kate Chiu, Year 6, Renaissance College Hong Kong, both 11 years old

SIXTH PLACE: Tanvi Pati, Year 4, Renaissance College Hong Kong, 8 years old


Amira Datwani, Year 5, Renaissance College Hong Kong, 9 years old

Abigail Wright, Year 6, Oxley State School, Brisbane, Australia, 10 years old

Jake Jung, Year 5, Ermington Public School, Sydney, Australia, 10 years old

Hang in there, you Clever Competition writers!

April 14, 2021 at 11:21 pm | Posted in Writing competitions for kids | Leave a comment
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Oswald patiently grinding the grain (with a little help from the cattle egret) in The Tale of Oswald Ox , illustration by Harry Harrison

Hang in there, all you wonderful writers who entered my Oxcellent Ox Story Competition! I’ve almost finished the judging and I’m excited to report that the standard of entries has been fantastic! It’s been so much fun reading all your very different and original stories about the beloved Ox! But there’s still a bit of work to go, and that’s me, above, grinding away at finishing this very enjoyable task! Please be patient and bear with me. I’ll be posting the results soon!

A Fabulous Event with HKAS!

April 13, 2021 at 3:21 pm | Posted in writing competitions | Leave a comment
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On Saturday I had the great pleasure of addressing by Zoom the winners of the Writing Section of the annual Hong Kong Arts Symposium competition, hosted by Chinese International School! Along with two other judges (YA writer Chris Maden and journalist Ophelia Wang), we had the immensely difficult task of choosing the winners from a pool of very talented writers from schools across Hong Kong in two age groups: 9 to 12 and 13 to 18. Here are the winners in this section:

All the judges agreed that the standard of entries was exceptional, with the winners displaying considerable maturity as writers, as well as raw talent, empathy and passion. It is my fond hope that they all continue to write prolifically. I confidently expect to see their names mentioned at literary events in the future :)!

Congratulations to all the students who took part in the competition, which also included Visual Arts and Photography. And congratulations also to Reina Lim and the rest of the committee of students who ran the competition and the event with great skill. It was a pleasure to work with you all!

Here are some photos taken at the event, including prize-awarding, workshops and prizes from the sponsors and donors. (Oswald Ox and I were happy to be included :)).

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