Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Me and my shadow...

It's work! That's what I tell my family when I'm hunched over the computer 'networking' on Facebook, or staring into space, thinking about my plotline while ignoring them completely.
My shadow for the day
Even when I'm doing the actual arduous, gut-wrenching, creative job of actually writing, you don't see much, beyond a slightly demented looking woman staring at a screen, often mouthing words and occasionally pulling out her hair.
On the other hand, sometimes my work is much more visual. I do school visits. I take part in literary festivals. I have lunch with my agent. Sometimes I get to go to award ceremonies and applaud as Jason Wallace picks up another well-deserved prize....
 When 13-year-old Hudi Charin asked if she could spend a day with me as part of her school's work experience scheme, it was a bit of a dilemma. Drum up a school visit to entertain her? Or let her sit and watch me mouthing at a screen? Here's Hudi's report of her day...with my comments in italics..

My school's work shadowing day was something we had all known was coming up in the last couple of weeks in July.

Some people were off with their parents, others going to places that they were not so interested in.

However, I was lucky enough to be able to spend my day work shadowing the author of some of my favourite books; When I was Joe; Almost True and most recently, Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery.
I have always wanted to be an author,  since before I can remember really, and knowing that I would be shadowing a real one (hmmm...not sure that I always feel like a real one. Actually, maybe I should go and shadow a real author one day) was an amazing experience for me and truly generous of Keren to let me do so.

Keren showed me into her house, (argh! messy!)  then packed up her laptop, telling me that she liked to sit down to write after a long (short) walk in the woods near where she lives. So off we went.

During the walk, I had a chance to ask her some questions...


What sort of things do you do in your job?
I write and edit, go to schools, attend award ceremonies and festivals... and lots of meetings.

What hours do you work?
At least two hours a day- but it all depends on the deadline.

How much annual leave do you get?

What qualifications do you need for this job?
None- anyone can write- but I worked as a journalist which was very helpful.

What sort of training do you need to get into this job?
Basic language and writing skills.

What do you like most about your job?
I like to hear from my readers and the end result is very satisfying.

What do you like least about your job?
Rejection is tough. And so are days when  the writing will not flow.

What chances of promotion are there?
Awards and selling books to Hollywood. Being a bestseller! With writing, the sky is the limit.

Are there any benefits that come with this job?
The freedom to run your own life and be creative. Seeing your name on a book. Hearing from readers who have enjoyed your book.

Have any of the following factors affected your job and, if so, how?
-Changing technology
The invention of the laptop has helped and of course the internet and online access to books has affected me.
-Overseas or local competition
There is loads of competition everywhere, it is an extremely competitive market.
-Economic recession
Yes. There are now smaller advances and more people are buying second hand books nowadays where authors do not get a profit at all.
-Changing company ownership
Not so far!  (Funnily enough since Hudi spent her day with me, my publisherFrances Lincoln has been bought by Quarto.)

What advice would you give a young person preparing to enter the workplace?
For journalism- start small on a local newspaper and build your way up.
For writing books- don’t get put off by rejection, keep reading and writing. Try to analyse good books that you have enjoyed.


What got you interested in writing for children?

I always enjoyed children's books and thought my style of writing would suit them.

When did you begin writing your first book, When I was Joe?

In April 2008.

How did you come up with the idea?

I saw a news report about a family who'd been involved in an armed robbery and had to go into witness protection.

How did you get into the mindset of a teenage boy?

 I just thought a lot about what it was like to be Ty -  all the pressures on him, all the changes in his life.

Did you always know that When I was Joe would lead on to a sequel?

No, I only started writing the sequel to amuse myself after I'd finished When I Was Joe and when I was looking for an agent to represent me.

After writing two books in the mindset of Ty, was it hard to write from the point of view of Lia in Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery?

Yes, much harder than I'd imagined it would be. I missed Ty a lot.

Lia has a very interesting personality that teenage girls can relate to but how do you relate to Lia?

She seemed to me to be a very typical teenage girl -  lacking in self-awareness, and a bit self-centred, but basically a good person. I remember feeling very misunderstood when I was about her age. 

Do you also relate a lot to your characters’ mothers too? When you characters are in an argument with their parents- how do you write from the character’s perspective?

I try and relate to all the characters, so I understand where they are coming from. That way the dialogue flows quite easily.

After our walk through the woods, Keren bumped into her friends (the perils of trying to work out of the house) and we sat down for coffee and cake (coffee for me. Cake for Hudi!) . Being an author was looking better and better to me!
I munched on a chocolate muffin while Keren worked on her next book- the sequel to When I was Joe and Almost True. I also had the great opportunity to read what Keren had written so far. (I was writing. But I was also watching Hudi read...seeing if she laughed at my jokes or not, seeing if she seemed to be enjoying herself. Felt very deflated when the huge manuscript I'd presented her with turned out to be so big because I'd printed the whole thing twice.) It is just as gripping and thrilling as the other two books in the series and it is not even finished! So, the minute it is published, go out and buy it! (this is assuming I ever get it finished...)
Just as I popped the last chocolate crumb into my mouth, Keren announced she had finished her writing for today.(I noticed that poor Hudi was shivering...and then I met another friend as we walked back through the woods...we went home and Hudi borrowed my daughter's hoodie...see what I did there?)
The huge stack...
It was now time to go off to the Frances Lincoln Children’s Books building to meet the team that works with Keren. When we got to the Frances Lincoln building, we were greeted by the people there... and a huge stack of 100 copies of Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery, brand new with the iconic red and white cover.
Keren got to work right away, while the woman who designed the cover of Keren’s latest book showed me around her department  (thank you, Arianna!)which was also very inspiring to me as I’m interested in graphic design.
When we arrived back downstairs, I helped Keren box away all the freshly signed books and it was now time for my amazing day with Keren to end. (3pm. I had to stop being a real author..sigh...and rush off to pick up my son from school. I offered to take Hudi along, so she could see the way mums have to juggle work and family, but unsurprisingly she wasn't quite so interested in that side of things)
It was great for me to learn that a writer doesn’t just have to spend their time shut up in a room typing away and, like Keren, I now try and get out and about to do my writing.
Many many thanks to Keren for giving up her day to show me what writing is really like and giving me this incredible experience! (And thank you Hudi  for not complaining that watching a writer write is actually very dull...not to mention watching a writer chat to random friends...and most of all for saying nice things about the work in progress. The perfect shadow!)


  1. What a brilliant blog post!

  2. Agree with Karen - a brilliant post, looking at the same day from both viewpoints. And fab to see the questions that young people really want answered. Thanks.

  3. So lovely to get an outsider's view on our strange profession - and discover that we're not that strange after all!

  4. Great post - and how brilliant of you to agree to a shadow for the day. Hudi is a really lucky girl!

  5. Hudi writes very well for a 13 year old - I see a great future ahead of her as an author, providing she can keep up the pace of working two hours a day ;~)

  6. really enjoyed reading this! thanks to Hudi and to Keren

  7. Fantastic post! I really enjoyed reading it, a writer's job seems to be coming more suited to me all the time! Lucky Hudi... :)

  8. thanks so much for the comments! I had such a great day. Thanks, Keren, (I laughed out loud at your italics) xx Hudi

  9. What a great post! I'd better not show my reading group or they'll be getting ideas...