A terrific visit to NAIS Guangzhou!

May 10, 2021 at 11:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Last Thursday I had the huge pleasure of visiting (via the internet) the students of Years 5 to 8 from Nord Anglia International School in Guangzhou! We had 3 fabulous sessions, where the students learned all about How to Become Great Writers and How to Write a Riveting Story. And even though the internet gremlins did their very best to interrupt our sessions, we all had a lot of fun! Many thanks to Wendy Crichton for hosting me on the day, and to librarian Dr. Solomon Basimilla for inviting me! Photos to come!

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!

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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 …

FOUR YEARS OLD!!

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!

A memorable visit to QSI Zhuhai!

September 29, 2018 at 11:00 am | Posted in QSI Zhuhai, Story Readings, workshops, Zhuhai schools | Leave a comment
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Thank you so much to fabulous primary school teacher Heather Domenico, for hosting me for two very busy days at QSI in Zhuhai on Wednesday and Thursday this last week! We had sessions for absolutely everyone from ages 2 to 18, as well as an after-school talk to the mums and dads!

The littlest ones met my crew of stuffed toys in a funny re-enactment of Lord Buddha’s Race – and proved they were extremely good at counting up to 12!

The 5 to 6 year olds proved they were old hands at the Chinese Zodiac when I read them The Tale of Pin Yin Panda while the 7 to 8 year olds became fearsome pirates as they heard The Tale of Desmond Dog!

The 9 to 11 year olds learned all about How to Publish A Picture Book from Brilliant Idea to Final Product and even got a sneek peak at my final Chinese Calendar Tale for the Year of the Pig, which is currently in production!

After school on Wednesday, I talked to a lovely group of parents about How to Create Bookworms in the Digital Age. Here are just a few of them, with their kids!

And finally, the 12 to 18 year olds and I spent almost the whole of Thursday together, in three different workshops: How to Become a Good Writer, An Introduction to Poetry and, finally, Nailing the Narrative Curve, where we had tremendous fun writing a story plan for the tragic story of three teenagers caught in a love triangle…in a paradise entered through a school locker portal!

And in between I met some fabulous kids, parents and teachers when I signed the books they bought from my wonderful distributor, Aaron Tearne at Obido Educational Services! If anyone missed out on buying a book, you can still do so, with some great discounts for multiple purchases here!

More photos to come!

A fun day at Green Oasis School in Shenzhen!

May 21, 2018 at 8:32 am | Posted in Green Oasis School, School visits, Shenzhen Schools, Story Readings, workshops | Leave a comment
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On Wednesday last week I took a train ride across the Chinese border to Shenzhen, where the lovely Rachael Taylor (photo above left) hosted me for a fabulous day at Green Oasis School! The Year 1s and 2s met my dashing Desmond Dog in a fun story reading with some fantastic pirate faces and growls from the kids and teachers too! Years 3 and 4 heard all about The Making of a Story Book as I took them on a step by step journey through the writing and publishing of The Tale of Desmond Dog. Then Years 5 and 7 learned all about How to Become a Great Writer – with a bit of a challenge to the Grade 7s to get OFF their digital screens and INTO reading lots and lots of books in their leisure time! And lastly the Year 6s learned all the tricks and tools in my popular workshop How to Write a Riveting Story. And after that I met some gorgeous fans when I signed books for a whole lot of kids, mums and dads! Thanks Rachael – and all the students and staff – for another busy and memorable day at Green Oasis!

A great afternoon at Good Hope School in Hong Kong!

March 26, 2018 at 10:29 am | Posted in Good Hope School, Hong Kong Schools | Leave a comment
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Many thanks to my lovely host Shallin Ng for inviting me last Monday to speak to the girls of the prestigious Good Hope School in Wong Tai Sin about How to Become Great Writers in the Digital Age! We covered everything from freeing up time by reducing extra-curricular activities, to reducing time on social media and digital games, to reading copiously, to keeping diaries! Here I am above with Deputy Principal Ms Helen Yu who presented me with a beautiful gift. I hope to see you all again soon!

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A wonderful morning at Diocesan Girls Junior School

December 14, 2017 at 7:21 pm | Posted in Hong Kong Schools, Story Readings, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Many thanks to my hosts, teacher Rachel Yu (above) and PTA parent Hynn Ming Lau, for inviting me to talk to the lovely young ladies of Grade One to Three at Diocesan Girls Junior School in Hong Kong yesterday. First I read the girls my beautiful new story Storm Whale, which was followed by dozens of eager questions about whales, some of which I had to admit were so tricky that I could not answer them! Then I gave the girls my Top 12 Tips to Become Great Writers in the Digital Age – and I was so impressed by their focus and understanding of this very topical and important subject! I’m quite sure that they will be strictly limiting their time on digital screens and greatly increasing their time spent reading books from now on! I look forward to receiving lots of DGJS story entries in my next Clever Competition! Thank you to my old friend Matt Steele of Growhouse for organising the event and co-ordinating the fabulous book sales!

I meet a future great writer at the SILF…

March 21, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Posted in children's literacy, Shanghai International Literary Festival | Leave a comment
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Meet Dashiell, a remarkable young man, and his remarkable family Brook, Phineas and Hannah, who have been coming to my sessions at the SILF for some years now. Dash’s mum and dad are both well-known writers, and it looks like Dash is a chip off the old block! We had a lovely lunch together, during which I noticed that Dash was busy with pencils on paper! And here’s what he produced, in just half an hour:

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This is Dash’s map of an imaginary country, Syldavia, which he invented over lunch! You can see its boundaries, its mountains, forests, beaches, bays and seas. You can see its capital city, its population, its national flag, its religions, its language and even its writing! This map reminded me of nothing so much as the maps and kingdoms invented by the Brontes in their Haworth parsonage back in the 19th century – and all of the Bronte children were exceptional writers, from an early age.

Dash gave me this map as a gift – which I will always treasure. But he has lots more at home! Now this is what I talk about in my sessions with kids, mums, dads and teachers, about the way great writers are created! The NUMBER ONE requirement is a GREAT imagination – and it’s very clear that Dash has an exceptional imagination. He also has great general knowledge, curiosity and the ability to think deeply. And of course Dash just LOVES reading books – lots and lots of them. And so it is inevitable that Dash will become a great writer one day.

I think we can all learn a great deal from this excellent young man. Thank you Dash.

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