Children's authors share their top tips for writing stories

Published on: 11 July 2023

The Branford Boase Award highlights outstanding debut writers for children, each year picking out the most exciting new authors, often those who are telling stories that haven’t been heard before.

But how do they get started, and what are their top tips for young writers? We asked them...

The eight titles shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2023.The eight titles shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2023.

Kel Duckhouse is shortlisted for her book The Bones of Me about a young female boxer. Here are her tips:

1. Become a professional noticer! The good thing about being a writer is that material is everywhere to be found. Wherever you go, make it a point to notice your surroundings. Settings, people, action playing out around you, they are all good inspiration for building stories later on.

2. Carry a notepad and pen of some description with you everywhere you go and yes, that can be digital too. Write down the things you notice as notes, ideas, poems, even doodles. You never know when inspiration will grab you and your notepads will become a wealth of material which you can dip in and out of for various projects.

3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Writing is a craft and we as writers never stop learning. Some of my best poems started off as jumbles of unsophisticated words on a page. Every word that you write, good or bad is teaching you your craft and helping you find your voice.

Louise Finch is on the shortlist with her book, The Eternal Return of Clara Hart, the story of Spence stuck in a time loop and reliving the same 24 hours again and again until he can bring about change. Her tip:

Read! Read as much as you can and as widely as you can. You can learn so much by reading books about the craft of writing, then going away with that knowledge and reading the sort of fiction you’d like to write. Once you understand what you’re looking for, it’s interesting to try and understand how the authors you enjoy reading have constructed their stories.

Caryl Lewis is on the list with her book Seed, in which the birthday present of a seed from his grandad transforms everything for Marty. Her tip:

Have fun! The best writing happens when you forget yourself! When you’re physically playing, say in a park, you don’t think about what you’re going to do next – you just feel it, live it, breathe it. Writing is your imagination playing, so lead with your heart and let it flow.

Ann Sei Lin is shortlisted for Rebel Skies, an epic, wildly original fantasy story set in an amazing other world. Her tip is perfect if you’ve got writers’ block: 

My top tip for writers who are experiencing writer’s block is to make a list of all the things that might happen and pick the one that causes the most trouble for your character. Writing a list can help you get unstuck from whatever scene is causing you trouble and experimenting with new ideas can point you in a new direction that you never considered before. If you’re really stuck, go with the option that causes your character the most trouble. It will create drama and give you a new problem for your character to deal with.  .

Illustration: Erika MezaIllustration: Erika Meza

Nadia Mikail is on the shortlist with The Cats We Meet Along the Way, a road movie of a book starring a girl trying to track down her sister, before the end of the world. She says:

My best top tip would be reading a bit of something you love if you ever feel like your writing isn’t currently up to par. I find that absorbing an excellent piece of writing – be it a book, a poem, or song lyrics – helps with getting the words to flow more smoothly, and inspires me to try to create something even half as beautiful as what I’m reading.

Christine Pillainayagam is shortlisted for Ellie Pillai is Brown, a coming-of-age story about a girl trying to work out who she is. Her tip?

My top tip for young writers is to write the story you want to read. This is how I find my inspiration –I ask myself, what’s the story that’s missing, the one you need to hear that doesn’t exist until you’re there to tell it? I wrote Ellie Pillai Is Brown based on my desire to read a coming-of-age love story that reflected someone like me. It was a story I wanted to read, that didn’t exist yet. As a young writer, starting with some of your own experiences and what you feel and know, is a great way to spark creativity. Start with a kernel of truth, and then let your imagination take over.

J.P. Rose is shortlisted for The Haunting of Tyrese Walker, an atmospheric psychological ghost story set in Jamaica. Her top tip:

Never stop enjoying writing! And remember that it’s alright to explore, to allow yourself the room to experiment. Nothing is wrong, it just might not be right, and that’s perfectly ok. Writing can be hard work, but the most important thing to do is always hold onto that love for writing we all started off with.

Yarrow Townsend is shortlisted for The Map of Leaves, an other-world story about a girl called Orla with a special, almost magical gift. Her top tips:

A blank page can be very scary when it’s sitting in front of you, waiting to be filled with ideas. It’s especially scary when we’re used to having to get everything right at school. You often feel like you need to write things perfectly first time. But what they don’t always tell you at school is that writing can be messy. Really messy. I like to fill my page with as many ideas as possible – along with doodles and scribbles and sketches and even bits of things like leaves or flowers I’ve found about the place. I write down different words I like, character names and little maps. Even when I get to my first draft, I like to keep things messy – not worrying about my spelling or grammar too much. It’s like a sketch before you do a painting – you can add the colour and depth later. The important thing is that you get your story ideas down on the page so they can start to come to life. 

The winner of the 2023 Branford Boase Award will be announced on Thursday 13 July. Find out more about the shortlisted authors on the website.

Topics: Writing, Features

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