I write novels for kids and teens. Is that a cool job or what?
For readers 8 – 12 and beyond, check out THE INCORRIGIBLE CHILDREN OF ASHTON PLACE series. Three children who were raised by wolves and their plucky young governess solve mysteries galore in Victorian England. It will leave you howling for more!
For teens and YA fans with a taste for the paranormal: THE POISON DIARIES trilogy is set in the dangerous world of poisonous plants. Book 2, NIGHTSHADE, is due out in August in the UK and October in the USA. Will it be the dose that kills, or the dose that cures? Truly, can a poisoned heart decide? For more info, visit my website.
Let the conversation begin!
Daily word count?
I am choosing to start off with this seemingly simple question because I want to disabuse anyone of the idea that writing fast is necessarily good, or that all “professional” writers write five thousand words a day before breakfast, or that there’s any “right” number of words to aim for each day.
As it happens, I keep fairly meticulous writing schedules (sounds insane, I know, but deadlines being what they are….). As a result, I have spreadsheets that show how many words per day I wrote over the course of my last few books. And I am here to tell you that I very rarely produce more than 800 words a day of fiction.
Now, if I’m writing an article, or doing an interview, or working on a lecture for a class or a conference, that’s totally different. Then I can write thousands of words at a pop. But when it comes to books – if, at the end of a workday, I have 800 words I want to keep, I consider it a good haul.
This is where my process has ended up with after writing for twenty-plus years, by the way. For young writers I would make the more usual recommendation: if it works for you, write like the wind without too much self-editing until you’ve got something substantial on paper. I think a certain mad rush is necessary when you’re starting out, because more than anything you need the courage to finish. In my case, I no longer worry that I won’t finish. I worry that it won’t be great! This is the neurosis of long years in the chair.
Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?
A little of both, I think. I would not start a book without having some idea of where I was going. I am a fiend for structure and always make copious notes about act breaks and midpoints and climactic scenes before I begin drafting. But I can’t think of actual plot points unless I’m in the thick of writing, so I avoid formal beat-by-beat outlines like the plague. The moment I start to write, everything is up for grabs. Without question, the most interesting plot twists in my books came as a complete surprise to me!
The work is done. How do you recharge?
Not nearly enough, I am sorry to confess. I’ve been writing two books a year for a while now, and it usually means I finish one book, walk the dog and make a new pot of French roast, and start working the next. But if I had some meaningful downtime I would read a ton, books that had nothing to do with work but were just for my own pleasure. Maybe only books written prior to the twentieth century; that would a lovely palate cleanser. I’d probably also do as much outdoor physical activity as I could manage, far, far away from a computer screen!
Advice for new writers?
I recently started teaching a fiction writing class at a local college, so I find myself giving advice to young writers pretty often these days. I try to impress upon my students that mastery of craft is essential and might feel artificial at first, but that simply means you need to eat, breathe, and sleep in it until it seeps into your bones. I point out that Aristotle came up with the notion of Beginning, Middle and End more than two thousand years ago, and no one has yet to improve upon this three-act model for storytelling. And I know that they want to write lengthy experimental novels with fourteen separate unreliable narrators contradicting each other in nested flashbacks that unfurl like a set of Russian nesting dolls, but not just yet, darlings. Tell a coherent, emotionally gripping story first, and we can perform risky experiments later, with a fire extinguisher close at hand.
What are you working on?
I am thrilled to be writing the third book in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, about fifteen year old governess Miss Penelope Lumley and her three Incorrigible pupils (who were actually raised by wolves). The book is called “The Unseen Guest,” and has yet another hilarious cover and interior drawings by illustrator Jon Klassen. It is too early to give away details, but I predict there will be hot air balloons, pith helmets, and spectres from beyond—Penelope and the Incorrigibles are in for quite an adventure!
The second book in the series, The Hidden Gallery, was a Junior Library Guild selection and a Spring 2011 Kids’ Indie Next List pick, and has illustrations by Jon Klassen.