Archive for May, 2012

Ending a successful series. Is this the daftest thing I’ve done as a writer?

It’s less than a month until the launch of Maze Running, the fourth and final book in the First Aid for Fairies series.

The fourth and FINAL book.

And right now, I’m asking myself: Why is it the final book?  This is a successful series, with lots of fans, with recognisably stunning covers, set in a world where I could easily have found dozens more adventures.  So why have I stopped?

Was I bored? (No! I love this world and these characters.)

Did my publishers say, nah, that’s enough thanks. (Not to me…)

Was I running out of readers? (Nope, not that either!)

So why, as a new-ish writer, trying to build a career as a real proper writer, have I stopped writing a successful series?

It’s a bit daft, really. I have strong characters I enjoying working with, and a formula which could repeat endlessly in different parts of Scotland, with different baddies and different magic.

But that’s really the point: I don’t want it to become a formula.  I want each of my books to be original and different, not to feel tired and samey. And while I don’t think I was anywhere near that with the First Aid series, I suspect I would have got there before I hit double figures!  So I wanted to stop while the books were getting steadily stronger and more exciting.

Some of my readers are a bit upset, even politely annoyed, that I’m ending the series here, but actually that’s quite good (sorry!) because I want to leave you wanting more.  Perhaps you’ll go on to make up your own stories set in the fabled beasts’ world. I also hope you’ll wait eagerly for whatever I write next…

Another major reason for ending the series here is that my characters kept growing up.  Because I have been very specific about each adventure’s time of year, there have been months between each book, and Helen and her friends are now all more than a year older than they were in First Aid For Fairies And Other Fabled Beasts. If I kept writing about them for another few months, and honestly reflected their lives and concerns, I wouldn’t be writing for 8-12 year olds, I’d be writing for teenagers, which I’m happy to do, but not within this series.

Also I don’t want to get too comfortable with these characters, nor do I want to tread the same paths with them again.  I know them really well, and I’ve taken several of them on tough emotional journeys, as well as dangerous quests.  I don’t want to artificially push them backwards just so we can watch them develop all over again. (Yes, Yann, I’m talking about you. And Lee and Rona, and maybe even Helen.) I want to meet and work with NEW characters.  Though I really am going to miss these ones.

I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a writer either. I want to write lots of different kinds of books (which I’ve possibly achieved already with picture books, retellings and teen novellas.)  But I want to write other novels too – my only standalone novel Rocking Horse War sometimes gets a bit lost amongst Helen’s adventures, so I want to concentrate on other ideas like that for a while.

So, sorry to all the First Aid for Fairies fans out there.  No more books about Helen healing her fabled beast friends at specific seasons of the year.

This is the end.

But I think it’s best to go out with a bang!

Maze Running Cover

And here’s the cover of Maze Running. What do you think?


Archive for May, 2012

Why write picture books AND novels?

I’m sitting on the fence today, not sure if I’m a picture book author or a novelist. I launched my new picture book, Orange Juice Peas, at the end of April and I’m already starting to think about the launch of Maze Running in June. So I’m going to spend the month of May being a wee bit confused about who I am. Do I write books about peas, bananas, babysitters and giggling, or do I write books about monsters, magic, danger and quests?

The answer of course is that I do both, often on the same day, and that I only occasionally get confused. But why do I do both?  And is there any difference, for a writer, between them?

The main difference for me is that I spend so much time with the characters in a novel, often months, sometimes years, that I know them as well as my family and friends, and care about them almost as much too. I don’t spend nearly as long with the characters in a picture book, so however fond I am of them I don’t know them as well. In fact, I don’t really know them at all until I see their pictures. That feels like the moment I first meet them, which can be a year or so after I write the book!

Also, I don’t have to describe the characters in a picture book, or everything that they do, because the reader can see them on the page (I may have described the characters and the action in illustrator’s notes when I came up with the idea, but those notes aren’t part of the finished book.) In a novel I have to give the reader a lot more detail, because the reader has to make the pictures of the characters and the action in their mind (the very best kind of pictures, I think!)

And the words in a picture book are still a work in progress until they are married with the pictures, because the illustrations are just as much a part of the story as the text.  The cover of a novel, however,  is designed to draw you into the story, it’s not part of the story.

And why do I write both? Because I always want to find the best way to tell a story. When a “what if” pops into my head, I want to explore it in the best way for that question. If the question is about whose bottom this is, or who is going to eat what ice-cream, then it’s probably a picture book; if the question is about why someone has just kidnapped your brother and sisters to use in a magic spell, or why there’s a thieving jellyfish trying to strangle a camp full of scouts, it’s probably an adventure novel!   Also if there is only one problem to solve it’s probably a picture book, if there are lots of problems it’s probably going to take a bit longer!

So it’s usually clear to me whether a story idea is a novel idea where I will build the pictures for the reader to see, or whether it’s a picture book idea where I build the structure for an artist to create the pictures.

So, picture books and novels look very different on the shelf, and they are quite different for the writer too. And right now I have a picture book idea AND a novel idea in my head. Which should I go and scribble down first?

picture books vs novels!

Here are all my picture books and all my novels so far. They do look quite different! Which pile looks more fun to write?