For over 30 years I’ve been authoring books (now numbering over 120 and counting). And yes, I make a living from being a full-time author and have done so for over ten years. This past week I finished one of the two books I wrote in 2013 and despatched it to a publisher. The next day I began work on the first of my projects for the New Year. Not being one to sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, I thought it might be helpful to readers (and would-be authors) if I describe my pro-active (and productive) approach to starting a book, or, in the current case, a book series. Who knows, it might work for you!
I’ve decided to create a children’s series as I’ve written two (very successful) series – the four-book Grandma Cadbury series (in print for over 16 years but now out of print) and the 11-book fictional Bushranger series (Five Senses Education). Two of the books in my series – Grandma Cadbury’s Trucking Tales and Desert Dan the Dunnyman have won children’s choice awards (the West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award, and Kids Own Australian Literary Awards respectively).
Book series for children are very popular with many young readers working their way through all of the titles; and too, publishers these days seem to have a preference for series rather than one-off books as the profit margin is higher.
Having decided to write a children’s book series, I then brainstorm ideas. Some of them for my current project include books about adventurers, thrill-seekers, angels, aliens, the circus, remarkable babies, heroic dogs, pirates and so on. In the end I’ve decided to go with a humorous, tall-tale series about heroic fictional explorers.
More brainstorming. I ask myself where might the explorers go? Answer: jungles, volcanoes, hot deserts, arctic regions, outer-space, mountains... The list continues.
I keep making lists: names of explorers (such as Willie S. MacBeth, Bin Bin Oolagah, Selwyn Shwarzpickel, Hilda High-Hogg). I keep adding to the list, always on the alert for strange Christian and surnames -- in phone books or newspapers, for example. Another thing I do is search through my ideas’ book where I have written scraps of information garnered from many sources. Here are a few which I might use:
1. a hollow tree so round and big you could fight ten football team inside
2. They were about to start a grim race against death from heat and starvation.
3. He was forced to make soup out of his bootlaces but it tasted disgusting and wasn’t very nourishing.
As I want to write tall-tale humour in my explorer series, I invent exaggerated landscapes or objects or people, and write phrases I might like to use such as:
· Along the banks of the river lived deadly tiger snakes, death adders, scorpions and crocodiles as big as houses.
· The Swamplands were piled with human bones the crocodiles used as toothpicks.
· It was a small waterhole the size of the Pacific Ocean.
In the meantime I re-read books I’ve written that use tall-tale humour (such as My Wacky Gran about a granny in a nudist camp having a game of tug-o-war with a football team, and The Curse of King Never-Trust-Him about a crooked car dealer determined to plunder a pharaoh’s pyramid). This reminds me what I’m capable of, plus the writing ignites my imagination. I also read other humorous books by other authors, again to excite my mind.
On my computer I’ve created a file named Explorers and then a series of folders with names such as Antarctica, Volcanoes, Jungle etc. Within these folders I compile relevant ideas, information, people’s names, places and so on. I keep adding to them as the project continues.
Next I decide which book I’m going to start with. My first choice is a book set in outback Australia so I continue adding ideas for episodes. I decide that this book is going to feature a mythical creature, the bigfoot. Where is it sighted? What is that place like? Who lives there? What does the bigfoot do that causes problems? What is the solution to capturing the creature? A reward perhaps? Who might try to capture it? I think of different kinds of explorers such as a former war hero, a bounty hunter, an Olympian, a deep-water diver (perhaps to search for the bigfoot in a waterhole). Finally I decide I’ve done enough brain storming...
What I do now I’m ready to start writing the book is to set out a title page with a (draft) title of Book One (Adventures in the Australian Outback), under which I add the words
A Book in the Explorers’ Series
Suitable for Ages 7 to 11 years
I also include my contact details. And then on a new page, I write Chapter One.
Now for the book’s first paragraph. Where to start? I don’t spend long dwelling on what to write. When I’m starting a new book – after the researching, reading, brain-storming and note-taking – I just write. Sometimes I start in the middle of heart-stopping action, or I begin with arresting dialogue. Sometimes I set the scene. Sometimes I give a brief description of place. I keep playing around with words, until I have something that seems ‘right’.
This is how the new book begins: ‘Just this side of the Great Fence in the centre of Australia – the place where heatwaves start – stands the town of Butti Butti. Population: 102 people, 603 cats and dogs and fifty million flies. It is so hot on the other side of the Great Fence it would burn off all the hairs of your body if you went there.’ (Mind you, this might change when I come back to re-writing the book, but at least it’s a start.)
Soon I’ve decided that a reward will be posted for the bigfoot which is terrorising Butti Butti. People arrive in the district determined to capture the beast, but the first three hunters meet with disaster and the bigfoot is still elusive.
I now decide that the fourth reward-seeker will be successful. By the start of the fifth chapter, I have a vague idea of how the story will pan out, but by now I have a draft title for the book: Bin Bin Oolagah and the Butti Butti Bigfoot (so that replaces my former draft title. At least for the time being.)
Of course there is still a lot of writing (and editing, workshopping and more editing) to be done, but I have well and truly started my first 2014 writing project. By the middle of the year I expect to have completed at least two books in the Explorers’ series and will have outlines for possibly another six to eight. It is then that I will submit my book proposal to a publisher in the hope of a contract. While I’m waiting for a response, I’ll keep on writing.
I don’t believe in writer’s block, and I don’t believe in waiting for the Muse to pay a visit. I believe in super glue (applied to your seat in front of your computer) and making a book happen!