Take the 20-minute book challenge

Published on: 20 June 2017 Author: Sarah McIntyre

The immensely talented and down right wonderful illustrator Sarah McIntyre, who's work includes Vern and Lettuce and The Legend of Kevin, became our fifteenth Writer in Residence back in 2017. In this blog Sarah introduced herself and laid out her plans for her residency. This week, Writer-Illustrator in Residence Sarah McIntyre sets a brilliant creative exercise. You may be surprised - and even delighted - at what you can do in just 20 minutes...

Sarah McIntyre's 20 minute book challenge

People sometimes ask me what the most important thing is about being a writer or illustrator. I say it all boils down to one thing: FINISHING.

Anyone can start a project, but the key is to keep going until it's done: that's the difference between an aspiring author and an author.

And the secret in learning how to finish projects is to set realistic tasks - not necessarily publishing that epic 200-page graphic novel but, say, making a small handmade book with eight pages. That's legit.

That's why I'm going to set a challenge: make an eight-page book IN TWENTY MINUTES.

Don't over-think and worry

'...WHAT??' I hear professional writers yelp. 'Are you really going to try to make people think we write our books in 20 minutes?'

'And YOU writers have it lucky!' shout the illustrators. 'You can write a picture book in several hours that will take us six months to illustrate! This is NUTS.'

No, I'm not saying this is going to be the next Hilary Mantel, Axel Scheffler or J K Rowling. But having to pump out a book in an incredibly short amount of time is a fantastic exercise because you don't have time to think and worry. You just cram as much on the page as you can, as quickly as you can. You can't be precious about it.

How to put the book together

So what goes into making a book of eight pages? Well, you have a front cover, a back cover, and three "double-page spreads" inside. 

Sarah McIntyre's 20-minute book challenge

You can think of it this way, if you like:

Sarah McIntyre's 20-minute book challenge

One plan of action is to fill the middle three spreads with story - beginning, middle and end - and then pick out your favourite thing, and put it on the front cover with a title and your name. Then write a quick blurb or a cheeky phrase on the back cover to entice people inside. 

Making up the story

So what are you going to write and/or draw your story about? Keep it VERY simple, almost the length of a knock-knock joke if you like.

Here are some things to get you thinking: 

Sarah McIntyre's 20 minute book challenge

Some ideas

  • Pick a character and an object (say, a monkey and hairdryer). How can those two things interact?
  • Pit two characters against each other, or have them meet each other and have a conversation. Dinosaur vs robot, your granny vs Taylor Swift, a fly vs a mirror
  • Pick your favourite food/scent/animal/planet/strange habit and show the reader why it's awesome
  • Think of a place you often go. Take away all the people and replace them with cows/aliens/chickens/giant amoebas and see what happens
  • Metamorphosis: show what happens when you wake up and discover you'd been transformed into an insect/cow/shark
  • Play with scale. What would it be like walking across the breakfast table if you were one inch tall?
  • What if toast went on the attack?
  • Illustrate a limerick
  • Show someone doing a common task, like making a sandwich or flossing. Have everything go spectacularly wrong

Here's one I did ages ago, featuring my friend Hayley, who loves hummus and has a short temper. 

Sarah McIntyre's 20 minute book challenge

Fold your paper and set the clock

What are you waiting for? Grab a pencil, scissors and a sheet of A4 paper!

Here's the fastest, easiest way to fold your book:

Sarah McIntyre's 20 minute book challenge

Now set your watch for 20 minutes and get cracking!

There's no need to share your results, but if you like, you can post them with the hashtag #20minbook on Twitter.

Sarah McIntyre's 20 minute book challenge

Meet our latest Writer in Residence

Every six months, BookTrust appoints a new Writer in Residence to write blogs, run competitions and give us their own unique perspective on the world of children's books. Our current Writer in Residence is Rashmi Sirdeshpande.

Find out more