I am in the final throes of a Graduate Diploma of Professional Writing at university, and I was very excited to finally do a unit dedicated to writing for children. I thought it would be a shoe-in. I am a mother of three little girls, I read picture books til my head spin. Every room in my house is graced with some form or another of stories for children.
How hard could it be?
My first assessment was to write a picture book. In four weeks.
I laughed out loud when I realised this: because if it was possible to write a picture book in just four weeks, then everyone would be doing it and we would all be millionaires. We certainly wouldn’t need to go to uni to learn how to do it.
I had what I thought was a brilliant, quirky made-up idea, wrote my 300 words, developed some great concepts for the illustrator and sent it in for marking.
When I saw my grade (16/30) I thought there had been a mistake. Was I really just three percent off failing? I never fail.
After speaking with the tutor and reading her well-reasoned comments, I had to admit – reluctantly, bitterly, sadly – that yes, it was a totally crap book and kids and parents would probably hate it. (NB She didn’t actually say people would hate it, those are my words).
That was if they actually understood it.
It was a bitter pill to swallow. Just because I am a writer and a parent does not automatically mean I am cut out to be a picture book writer. And just because you want something doesn’t mean it will want you back (a lesson for more in life than just writing).
I also realised that my strength as a writer lies in telling stories that are based in fact. Yes, I am known to embroider the truth a little, to elaborate, exaggerate and mess around with little things like chronology, but everything I write – from stories about having three kids on Relentless, to reviews on WeekendNotes, to the fact-based short stories about my historical houses that won me awards – are all based on truth.
Why make things up when the truth is available?
So although my brush with failure is a smack in the face to my pride, it is also quite liberating. I realise it sounds like I am just giving up, but I am not. It has made me realise something about my abilities. Write what you know is a well known adage in the writing world and I knew I couldn’t afford to break the rule twice.
So for my second assessment, a junior fiction novel, I have based it on people and events from my own life. It is a veritable Frankenstein of truth, albeit repackaged with new names and a cutesy protagonist.
Stay tuned and I will let you know how I go.