In My Wildest Dreams: Adventures in Children's Fiction






An odd case of mistaken identity.

After two months off, I have started writing again. This week I started reworking my book for 9-12s, The Tall Story of Tiberius Small. This was the one which was politely declined by a eleven agents in 2013.  (Four never replied). I received one very kind 'near miss' amongst the correspondence.

Now that I have abandoned the idea of changing my name to Jackie Durango, 35 year old mother of two from Chiswick and dismissed all notions of there being ageism in children's publishing as a sad delusion, I feel ready to start work again.

I have begun by modifying the title. My book has become The Tall Story of Tobias Small. I think this is better, but time will tell. Thank goodness for global find and replace. I shall be changing more names, but this is less important than developing character, narrative voice comedy, place and other things.

Why am I doing this? Because I believe the heart of the book is sound. I have the faith of ten Ray Bradbury's. I am working without the benefit of an editor in a world where, for an old hand like me who has been published three times and remaindered, a book has to be tuned and polished before it will be taken seriously by anyone who wants to make money out of it. There is no leeway for someone who has been there before.

I am taking the book apart and putting it back together anew. In motoring parlance, I am pimping my ride. Street legal or not, I want it to shine
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A little euphoria goes a long way.

It's a happy day when you finish the first draft of a book, and hopefully an auspicious one when you complete it on 1 March with the sun shining and Spring in the air. It is the same feeling as you get when you finish your Finals at University. Job done.... for now! Ahead lies some stolen and golden time, before the reality intrudes. A holiday! Time off! Release.

Not that it has been unbearable. I have enjoyed working on the project more than I have on any other one. Not that I am complacent. I am looking forward to the redrafting and making this story work. At the moment I don't give a damn about trying to sell it. I just want the story to be good. The writing of a synopsis, my pitch and emails can wait. Right now I am inclined to forget that reality and just enjoy the moment.

It is always good to have an idea in hand though, just in case,  and I have many. The road to being published again is an uncertain one, but their are many good views to be had and people to meet along the way. There'll always be something to work on. But right now, I'm going birding, I'm going to take a few days off.

Start again with a clear head.
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You can go home again

Nothing in my writing is ever planned. I play around (or work around) until things look right. An ability to recognise shape, patterns and shadows is the the thing. That is where I am intuitive rather than applying rules. I don't plan. I write, then unpick, delete and shuffle what is left. Then add a little more.

Sometimes I have a blind spot. Quite often actually, which is why it is good to let a first draft settle for a long while. The glare of the final sentence blots out the flaws in the four thousand sentences that have come before.

So what was so wrong with the first draft I finished a year ago? It started out as Young Adult (YA) fantasy set in the real world, avoiding as many angst ridden vampire, zombie, dystopian love threads as possible. The story had edge that would cut the skin, if not the carotid artery. But with the story came an ending and a logic that said it was more suited to a younger age group. Maybe I am unskilled in the art of YA or just unwilling to twist the knife?

So fluently reading 10+ it is, with a closing parameter of 14. Not that I really believe that stories can be targeted accurately at age. That has more to do with signposting & marketing.

When my sight returned, I noticed two things that should have been obvious from the outset had I planned, but then writing is the way I construct something. It is a laborious and frustrating way of doing things, but never boring. I recognised a minor character, who by a different name I had written about before in Badgerman & Bogwitch. The second thing of course was the landscape. Much as I had tried to make it different, it was still the Ramswold Valley. I should have recognised the landmarks.

At last the shape is there with the missing pieces and the things I need to change. I have 52,000 words to unpick and rearrange. I know the world of the Ramswold Valley so I should not resist writing about it if there is more to say, another story in its own right.

To help me I shall use what is really a free-form and intuitive planning tool, Scapple, from Literature & Latte. Instead of planning I am using it to unpick and rearrange and add to what I already have. And it is cheap too at a few pence over ten quid. I already write using Scrivener, so it is a natural process to use.

This is my work for the summer.
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Did I really write that?

A brave thing to go back to the first draft of a book after a year's absence? It's loaded onto the Kindle, ready, but I have just put it down to write this, prompted by the first section heading: Nightshade. I don't even remember writing that word. This may be a good omen, indicating that I shall be able to stand outside the story and see it afresh as others might view it.

On the other hand. like places and things in childhood the story may turn out to be smaller and less wondrous. Like favourite holiday destinations it may have suffered over the time and be almost unrecognisable. These are the risks that come with committing a chunk of one's life to writing something you hope will be enduring.

It is not an exciting prospect, but hopefully after the examination there will be exhilaration. Then relief.

It will be short lived. Doubt will creep back in on taking a third look at the book. So I shall revise it a fourth time until I reach the point where I think it is time to let it go. Hopefully.


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My Window, the Pencil Sharpener

It isn't the biggest window in the world, but it is possibly the biggest pencil sharpener... unless your study has a bigger, more distracting window with a better view. The sun is shining too. Maybe I should turn my desk around and face the other way.

I am big on BIG this morning too. Truly procrastinating. Back from holiday. Staring at the blue Adriatic last week, the task of finishing The Key to Finlac seemed a very simple one. I could see the light and shape of things. I would be ready to come home and start again.

So here I am, turning the smallest of pencils around and around in the big sharpener. Writing. A window on the world.
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Monarch of the Pen: The Flight of Fancy.

No longer so perplexed about revisions today. In the early hours of the morning came a moment of clarity. What brought it on? Our upcoming flight to Croatia had been changed from a civilised 12.55 p.m. to an unthinkable 6.25 a.m. I was furious. I shall never fly with Monarch again. It prevented me from sleeping. I had to switch off and change the subject.

Out of bad comes good. At 1.00 a.m. I worked out exactly what I have to do with my book. Not the new one, but The Key to Finlac, which I "finished" in August. I now know how to reduce the MS by 40,000 words whilst retaining the heart of the story. That's the theory anyway. I began making notes this morning.

As for the recent book? Can I really revise both stories at once? The human brain is an unfathomable thing.
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Where is the key to Finlac?

So who's has the key to Finlac?

It is sixth months since I started writing this blog and this is the 70th entry. So where am I? At the outset, I determined to be up front about the process of being published again: my adventures in children's fiction.

I completed The Key to Finlac back in August 2011, or at least I thought I had. It is a book in two parts and stands at 95,000 words long. Since that time I have been seeking an agent. What have I learned from my enquiries during that time?


  • The premise promises much.
  • The story is worth telling.
  • The characters are interesting.
  • The writing is charming and lyrical in places; I can still put sentences together.
  • The book is too long.


I have decided to revise it, rather than throw up my hands and epublish it as it is...or abandon it. That would be the easy option. Writing is not easy.

I need to lose at least 40,000 words and replace a few. I need to pull it apart and put it back together without losing the essence of the story. This is a process that once I start will take three months. What's more, I shall be revising two books at once. A challenge. I shall enjoy it. Otherwise it is not worth doing.

So who has the Key to Finlac? I have. And eventually, so will you.
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