Books for Children Other

Writing for Children – child’s play – or is it?

Guest post written by Linda Strachan, the author of over 50 books for children.

Car crime, racism, stabbings, pregnancy; delicately seasoned with flying horses, puppies, a cuddly haggis and a dollop of love –  Enter the diverse world of this children’s writer.

It is a curious thing – you would never ask a paediatrician if they are going to become a proper doctor i.e. a doctor for adults, but most children’s writers have been asked when they will write a ‘proper book’ (for adults!).  I think the real question to ask a children’s writer is – ‘What kind of children’s books do you write?’

The answer might be – novels, non fiction, educational or picture books.  Some write one kind of book while others will write across the ages and genres.  I write novels for young adults, picture books for young children and pretty much everything in between.

One of the glorious things about writing for children (unlike writing for adults) is that you are less likely to be restricted to one age group, or even a single genre. But if you write for adults, publishers and readers alike will have expectations; do they know you as a writer of crime or romance, thrillers or literary fiction?

Writing is a lot about imagination but I never imagined I would be a writer. In fact it is amazing that it happened at all because when I was about eight years old a teacher once said ‘ (she)….lacks imagination.’  So for many years being a writer never really entered my head.  

When I started I had my fair share of rejection slips (in fact I have a fat file full of them) and it was a steep learning curve, but in 1996 I got my first publishing contract.  My latest book, a teenage novel (Dead Boy Talking – pub Strident – April 2010) will be my 56th book.  Granted some of them are very short!

I love my work, the angst and delight of writing; losing myself in the story and living with my characters.  It is the challenge of getting inside the head of a teenager or trying to find exactly the right words that will be reassuring and still have the awww! factor, for a bedtime story picture book.

Writing ‘short’ for a picture book means that every single word counts. You are continually working up the text, reading it out loud, cutting and moulding it, until the rhythm is strong enough to grab even the most casual reader. The story may seem deceptively simple but it must feel complete and satisfying for both the child, and the adult reader who reads it to them –again and again!

Writing ‘long’ for a novel it is important to get the feel of the characters and their situation so that the reader is taken along for the ride and not bumped out of the story because it seems unrealistic, or because the readers cannot recognise themselves in the characters.

Young people are very critical readers, they will not put up with anything that does not grab them and carry them through the story; they won’t put up with padding or self indulgent twaddle. There is no place to hide.  As a children’s writer you also have to be prepared for very direct criticism. Most young people will be brutally honest about your book, even if it is negative, they will tell you with complete disregard for your feelings.

Writing is only a part of my job. The research is often fascinating. It has taken me out on a Saturday nightshift with an ambulance crew; extracting people from crashed cars on a training day with the local Fire Service training college; on tours of haunted castles and Royal palaces; speaking to experts about where pterodactyls nest or the culinary delights of Jamaica.   So from pterodactyls and ghostly castles to crime and mayhem, being a children’s writer may be exhausting at times, but it is never boring.

I spend a lot of time travelling all over the UK, and beyond. I visit schools and libraries talking to children and I also speak to adults who want to start writing, at festivals, conferences and writing retreats.  So I decided to write a book for people who were as excited as I was by the idea of writing for children.  But it is not just for new and aspiring writers.   I was keen to give a realistic view of what happens when you are first published; what to expect and how to gather support systems, and everything from school visits to handling finances. Many people have a very strange idea of what life is like for a writer.  This probably comes from the media hype that surrounds any big book deal or mega-successful author; think JK Rowling’s Harry Potter or Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights.  The reality is actually less Hollywood and more Eastenders!

Linda Strachan is the author of over 50 books for children and her book Writing for Children is full of information for aspiring and newly published writers.

If you’d like the chance to win one of two copies of Writing for Children, then just leave a comment below, before midnight GMT on 5th January 2010.

Winners will be selected at random and notified by email.

The giveaway is open internationally.

Good luck!

61 replies on “Writing for Children – child’s play – or is it?”

I don’t specifically think about writing for children, but I love to read any books about writing, as there would definitely be a few things I could learn! Enter me into the giveaway please? 🙂

Plus children’s book writers have to write for the parents too. It’s not just the kid that has to be happy: the parent is the one that has to read it over and OVER and OVER!

Sure, you can enter me in the giveaway!

Thank you, Jackie, for inviting me to write a guest post. I find this blog fascinating – so many books I would love to read. I obviously spend a lot of time reading books for children or young adults as well as those written specifically for adults, but There are always more wonderful books and great authors to discover and never enough time!

Your comment is so true Rebecca. If they don’t appeal to adults they may never reach the children who are too young to buy their own books.

The best children’s books are much more complex than they first appear, even what looks like the simplest picture book will have layers of meaning. They also need to be written with a rhythm that makes reading out loud a pleasure for parents even when read for the umpteenth time.

Interesting post! I have written for children – unsuccessfully – for many years. I will write something and send it off, but it never gets published (though I do get good feedback). I keep trying! 🙂 I’d love to read her book. Interestingly, I find that most children’s books are better written than most adult books.
Thanks — Beth

I love children’s books … they are what can hook you to be a reader for life so I think they are so important. And I still remember the books as I loved as a child so clearly and with such love … I don’t know if I ever felt that kind of love for a book I’ve read as an adult. I think the very best children’s books are “everybody” books. Having my son now, it has been so wonderful to explore the world of children’s books over again and see what I missed while I was “growing up.” Fun post!

I would love to win a copy. Great guest post. From a reader’s perspective picture books do look simple but then if you think of all the picture books you’ve read your children that you didn’t like and would never read again, it shows it can’t be all that simple. As a reviewer I can tell it’s not.

callista83 AT cogeco DOT ca

As a first grade teacher, I value and respect authors of children’s books. There is nothing better than bringing my class into the library and having them ask for books by a specific author. That’s how I know the particular author spoke to them and helped light the reading spark. First grade is when kids first start to view themselves as readers and they take that role seriously. Three cheers for writers of children’s books!

Good post, and spot on about kids’ honesty. My 9YO is my first reader for a middle-grade novel I’m writing. I read her a chapter yesterday which had a long description of a stained glass window, but didn’t actually call it a stained glass window. She looked at me blankly and said,
“Is it a stained glass window?”
“Well, why didn’t you just say that?”
It was a good reminder not to try to be too fancy or flowery. Kids prefer to get on with the story.

Having had 2 children, and always read to them, I loved JK Rowking and Roald Dahl books. When I was a child, I loved Enid Blyton, and The Borrowers.

Interesting facts in short version are always easy to read through and remember some of it. Nice post.
My kids are always looking for something new and exiting.

This is something i’ve thought about for years, keep saying one day when i have the time, but truthfully wouldn’t even know where to start.

I would love to win a copy of this book. I’ve always wanted to write a childrens’ book, and still remember vividly how enthralled I was with ‘the Secret Seven’ and ‘the Famous Five’.
Yes, please enter me into the draw!

This article is true in so many ways! Especially “Young people are very critical readers, they will not put up with anything that does not grab them and carry them through the story; they won’t put up with padding or self indulgent twaddle”.

I can remember meeting a famous children’s author when I was a child (mentioning no names) and we were all brutal to him! It’s been my dream to write and children’s book and have never gotten around to it. Maybe this will be the year?!

I’ve always been really interested in writing, but when my children came along – I kind of lost the will – this would be perfect! the chance to find out how childrens authors capture their imagination so well

My kids love their bedtime stories and my son is going through a phase of asking me to make them up from my head – any advice (like the book) would be great :).

This book looks very promising, I have lots of ideas for books but need advice, the synopsis seems to describe my ideal guide!


Having lost the excuse to read at bedtime now – my kids think that 16 is a bit old for bedtime stories! I would relish the opportunity to read childrens tales once more, (for research of course) and have a go at getting some of my own ‘Cornish yarns’ down on paper.

this book would be really good for my mum as she has always talked about writing a childrens book. please enter me into the draw so i can try to win for her.

My new year’s resolution is to write more and I would love to learn more about writing for children!

This book would be a fab help towards my resolution! x x

This would be such a help to get my books published & to help me make it clearer for what to write,I am hoping to write a have a book published for my grandson.
Please enter me into the draw.

I’m a closet writer and write stuff for my own childrens entertainment, i’d love to improve and one day get something published, this book might just give me the advice I need !

Please enter me into the draw. I would love to have a go at writing and illustrating my own book for kids.

I’d love to write a story for my daughters, then maybe if they enjoy it in years to come they’d go on to retell it to their children too.

This book sounds like just the thing I need to get things started, so please enter me into the draw.

It’s always irritated me when I’ve heard people assume that writing for children must be easier than adults.
It seems such a skill to be able to hook young children on reading, and it’s a talent that I would dearly lovely to have.

I love to read about writing and think that writing for children would be a harder job than adult fiction. Please enter me in the draw, I would love to read this.

Very interesting post, spot on x

I used to make up stories for my son when he was younger, he’s 11 now and far more interested in playing on his PS3 !
I’d love to win the book and use it to have a go at writing down the stories before I forget them all !

I’d love to be able to write good childrens stories/books. I’m always making up funny stories for my two youngest children ~ the sillier the better as far as they are concerned!

I would love to be entered into this draw, thank you!

Hi there.. I am a primary literacy teacher/ tutor and I inspire children to write well. I would love a copy of this book to use alongside all my other books to help children with their writing. In the past 24 years of teaching 5 of my pupils have gone on to become published authors. See- being a teacher does make a difference.

I’m juggling a handful of picture book drafts at the moment. The pressure of making every word count when writing ‘short’ is both a motivating challenge and perpetual burden. I’d describe the writing ‘short’ process so far as rewrite, revise, repeat. And I will press on for the day when ‘publish’ enters my vocabulary. 🙂

Thanks for the inspiration and chance to win!

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