Monday, May 29, 2006

Bank Holiday Monday

I was flicking through my copy of Children's Writers' & Artists' Yearbook a couple of days ago. One of the articles in it has some very useful advice on how to get started in writing for kids which I thought I'd share:

1- Read, read, read
2- Get out and about- researching in bookshops, libraries and through children themselves
3- Watch and listen- to what's popular in kids' media
4- Network- with other authors/illustrators
5- Never underestimate the job at hand
6- Use your experiences
7- Research catalogues and websites of publishers
8- Submit your material with care- follow guidelines and make sure it's your best work
9- Identify your USP (unique selling point)
10- Don't give up

So... it's as easy as that!

While I'm here I thought I'd provide a link to an anthology with some of my writing in it. It was produced by a writers' group I belonged to when I worked in London, but which I no longer attend. My entry is entitled The Voice.

Also, below is a copy of a poem I wrote some time ago. It's one of my more transparent poems. Hope you enjoy it!

The Bubble

He lives
In an iridescent glow
Of convex curves:
Bubblegum blown in childhood
Through which only he can enter.
An outstretched hand
That will pop
The fragile
Impenetrable safety of his bubble.
It might stick.

(Copyright N. Ensaff)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Da Vinci Code

I went to see The Da Vinci Code yesterday- a Tuesday evening and the cinema was packed. A company had even booked a private viewing for their employees!! So, bad reviews mean nothing.

Not having read the book, I have nothing to compare the film with and I thought it was okay, light entertainment, really. Not deep or believable.

Too much code breaking going on for my liking. It was a bit like a Nancy Drew book in this respect and my twelve year old inner child liked that, but the first part of the film seemed rushed. There was way too much happening and things didn't unfold in a natural way. It got better, I thought, but there were quite a few co-incidences like the professor happening to know some British historian who lived in France and who was an expert on the Priory and who later in a bizarre and, dare I say it, unbelievable twist turned out to be someone else. I found the ideas engaging and am interested to find out more about the premise of the novel, but the construction is what I found shallow. Still, what do I know?

I've not sold millions of books and as the Guardian pointed out today the film took £119 million globally in its opening weekend so 'there is a significant gap between public and pundit opinion'.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Summer time

Summer is approaching, although you wouldn't have thought it, given the rain we've had lately. What does summer mean to you? Rain? Sun? Rest? All of the aforementioned?

To me it means an opportunity to travel and to write and catch up with family and friends. Yes, those alien species I've not seen in ages because of the fact I am on life's treadmill.

I have a very busy half term planned and have already decided part of my summer. A friend has kindly offered that I visit her in Hong Kong (I'm still debating that one, cost considered) and another is due to return from the US, so I hope to see her. It's lovely knowing people who live elsewhere in the world, but sometimes home is where you want to be.

I'm hoping to stay pretty close to home, but still be adventurous- sort of. I intend to venture into a tent- yes camping. That's why this rain concerns me. I have terrible memories of a very wet last camping effort, but I am assured all will be well. The South of France beckons and I'm looking forward to the adventure.

When I'm not collecting wood for a log fire, I 'm hoping to catch up on my reading. I have a few books which I want to finish over the summer, ones I bought a while ago, started and never got a chance to complete. Books like Empress Orchid which I'm three quarters of the way through, The Five People you Meet in Heaven, The House of Sand and Fog and any others that catch my eye between now and then.

I also want to work on my own writing, so it looks like an action packed summer for me. Just the way I like it!

Sunday, May 21, 2006


Well, today I have a few things to say, or lists to suggest you view:

Firstly here's a wonderful list of the top 50 children's books, as voted for by Australian kids. Harry Potter seems to be a favourite and it's useful to know just what kids like if you're aiming at them, even if they're Australian!! The Red House Children's awards are a similar list in Britain, voted for by kids.

You may well know that at the moment the Carnegie Awards are being decided and I've always found these to be great indications of really good novels for kids.

As for adult reads, well here's the New York Times bestseller list and if you go to Amazon, they have a Hot 100 list for almost every kind of product available. Here's the one for books

Another useful list is Ottakars top 10 . I love this book shop, although it may well be taken over by the HMV group and become part of Waterstones from what I've read. Still, you can see what's selling.

I think being aware of what sells is crucial when you are writing, especially if you want to make a living out of it.

Of course, you need to write what you feel passionately about, but at the same time knowing whether it's likely to sell is a must.

A.S Byatt obviously thinks bookshops are biased against good reads, in favour of best sellers. Well, at least she did in 2002. If you've read Possession, her Booker prize winning novel, which I tried very hard to do, you may well understand which category her novel might fall in to! Now, that's a literary monster of a novel. Definitely not an easy read.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lights, camera, action

At the loss of something related to writing to say, can I recommend two seemingly male films:
1- Mission Impossible iii- which I went to see and thoroughly enjoyed, except for the violent bits where I turned my head and closed my eyes ... and
2- 16 Blocks - which stars the ever talented Bruce Willis and is directed by the same guy who did the Lethal Weapons films.

Neither is a laugh a minute, although 16 Blocks has a funny character in it, but both will have you glued to the screen, in the way that I am hoping to have my readers glued to the pages of The View from My Window.

I don't normally go for such action adventure but let's just call it research for my writing.

Sometimes I actually think I'd be better suited to writing films - I really do visualise my scenes in my head: my first draft of One of a Kind was episodic, seen from different characters' perpectives in the way that one would watch a film with its different scenes. Perhaps this is a good thing. It makes the plot pacier I think. Any views?

My next visit to the cinema has to be to see The Da Vinci Code. With Tom Hanks in it it's bound to be a good 'un.

If you've watched any good films, lately, drop me a line.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Well it is Wednesday and urged on by my admirers who will remain anonymous (I really do mean it), I have decided to blog again. Please note I say blog not blag, although the two may well be synonymous in some circumstances. Not this of course!

I think it's safe to say I am tired and this blog will read like the workings of a strange mind. I apologise in advance.

In any case, onwards and upwards. My GCSE class were uncharacteristically attentive today- unsurprising given that their Literature GCSE is next week. Picture usually lethargic teenage girls, who slouch rather than sit, suddenly sitting upright and writing words down verbatim and you'll have a pretty good idea what I mean.

A friend is coming round this evening and I am only too glad of the break. I wrote another chapter in my new novel and I really like where it's going. I expect I'll not get much done on it now till next week but let me just say the plot is thickening like a nicely simmering stew or something along those lines!

Monday, May 15, 2006

One bite at a time

If, like me, you missed the wonderful spectacle of the mechanical elephant in London, here's a link for you. It takes you through the story and provides some pictures of the amazing machine. What a fantastic idea. It reminds me of childhood and the wonder of fairytales.

Don't you wish sometimes that you could return to that magical time? Perhaps that's what writers, especially children's writers, do- give us the freedom to explore our inner child. Of course, it very much depends on the nature of the text.

If you write for children or anyone in fact, have a look at Anita Loughrey's recent blog posts- she has some useful stuff on writing: advice from Tony Bradman, the children's writer.

Getting back to my main post and speaking of elephants, I have a mountain of things to do: researching and writing my new novel, marking some essays, preparing lessons and living life- but as they say the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Guess I better get munching then!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The View from the Window

I thought I'd post something before I spend a couple of hours writing. Yes, you read right, I am forcing myself to do some writing today. No more excuses. In fact I've been inspired.

I had my creative writing group at school and have aired the idea of posting a few paragraphs of their work and they're okay with it, so that's something for you to look forward to! Till then, you'll have to make do with my work.

Here's the opening to my new novel: The View from the Window

You wouldn’t have guessed from my appearance where I live and you wouldn’t have guessed from my calm demeanour that something earth shattering has just happened.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you push a person to the brink, sooner or later he’ll snap. That’s why when they arrived in their uniforms and with their questions I sat knowingly observing them from above.

In this city you can sit for hours unnoticed. Anonymity is very important here. People come to be forgotten or get forgotten on the way and then they leave. I’ve seen them in their suits and shiny shoes with their mobile phones and laptop cases. I’ve seen them all. They come and then they go like fish swimming downstream, carried with the tide.

Sometimes it gets to me. It seems like the tunnel of life that they burrow looms before me like a disaster waiting to happen. Sometimes, at night in the dark, I feel the stale air of the city clamping its arms around me but then I remember I have it all. I have it all in the palm of my hand. Destiny’s what you make of it and I have big plans for my future and that makes me smile.

Even so I watch and I worry - not for me of course – for them: those unfortunate souls who don’t have it all. They’re a disaster waiting to happen and sometimes I feel that I am powerless to stop it, so I just sit and I wait.

Copyright 2006 N.Ensaff

I won't let you know what happens next, but I hope you're dying to know. Any comments are welcome!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Useful Stuff

Okay, this is definitely a work avoidance tactic on my part. I have a pile of reports to check and collate. Of course, dedicated as I am, I will get round to the task, but we all need a break sometimes don't we? All work and no play makes Jude a dull girl.

Ever keen to spread the word, I'm here to tell you all about the National Association of Writers' Groups. The web administrator is Anita Loughrey who started a blog, apparently inspired by mine?!! Go to the NAWG site to find a writers' group or look in the Writers' Handbook. Some are listed in there alongside writers' courses.

Speaking of courses the Arvon Foundation runs some great ones. I've been on one and can recommend them highly.

Short and sweet today- my post- not me. I can hear the reports and my novel calling.

Monday, May 08, 2006


It's late and I should be in bed, but the draw of the blog just got the better of me. I went to a new writers' group this evening and spent the two hours listening to people's work and hearing constructive criticism. Writers' groups are a good way to keep the motivation going.

I've made some headway with my plot for The View from My Window, and I believe I have an idea for my end which is great news.

Other news: I got a polite letter from the agent regarding One of a Kind a couple of days ago acknowledging my submission and saying that they'd get back to me when they'd considered it, so let's keep our fingers, toes and eyes crossed.

And: my York Notes will be published at the end of August. The notes are on Amazon but my name's not yet, nor is an image... Still, have a look.

The Wylie Merrick agency which is linked, is posting some really useful stuff on why agents reject manuscripts which is worth a gander.

For those of you who are interested, the meaning and origin of the phrase to gander at something are: 'Look at, glance at. This slangy idiom, dating from the early 1900s, presumably came from the verb gander, meaning "stretch one's neck to see," possibly alluding to the long neck of the male goose.'

Always enlightening, I know.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Okay, so much for my plotting idea. My novel plotting is taking a while as I'm very very busy at the moment with exam candidates for GCSE and A level. My desk is clear at the moment, but will soon be covered again in essays.

On the plus side, I had my weekly creative writing meeting with kids from my school and that was great. It's really liberating to listen to their ideas. Kids take so many more risks than adults. This particular group are at the stage when they are really creative. Perhaps I'll get some of their work and post parts, so you can see what I mean; I'll see whether they're happy for that to happen.

On to my real post. Research. When I first started writing fiction I didn't think research was necessary but I guess I was doing it without realising.

My first unpublished novel was set in a boarding school and as I taught in one at the time, a lot of my research came from my everyday experiences. My second one was based on a lot that I already knew and events that had been recounted to me by people, but I did research the history and setting in detail and I read a number of books in similar genres, to help. One of my characters, although minor, was in the military so I read a book told from a soldier's point of view to gain an impression of how he would think and act.

As far as my non-fiction writing and educational material goes, research is a must. Again a lot of the material I write draws on what I know, having taught texts or skills in the same area but again, I supplement this by reading the biographies of writers whose texts I'm writing study guides on. I like to have as much insight as possible.

So, how and where to research? I go to the absolutely fantastic British Library. If you've not been there- go!
And, if you're a member of the Society of Authors you can get a three year reading pass which means you have access to the wonderful reading rooms. The library's website is great too as the catalogue of books is actually accessible from it and you can reserve books via the website. You can also order and download papers or articles.

It's an amazing place and I only discovered it last year! Getting excited about a library, whatever next!

Other ways to research? Read books in similar genres to your target market or the book you intend to write. Go to places that feature in your novel. Talk to people who do what your characters do or have had similar experiences. Get as much information as possible to help you make your novel as believable as possible.

Well, that's the theory. Now, time for the practice.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The art of writing

Well, the manuscript is in the post to the agent finally. Re-reading it was a task and a half! The drafting and editing process is an important one but it can be difficult. Learning to cut out chunks of your work, develop some of your ideas and abandon others takes time. Getting the writing to read and sound like it's effortless takes a lot of effort! Oh how ironic!

In fact this article covers the topic quite nicely. I like the advice on verbs and description. It's worth a read.

Now that One of a Kind is in the post, I've started my next novel. It's got a working title of The View from My Window but this may change.

I need to do quite a lot of research for this one as it's based on an area I know only a little about. That's my problem- I come up with fantastic ideas for starting chapters and then need to think about the end. I'm plotting it at the moment so it may be a while before my next post. Till then, happy writing all.