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Well and truly pranked by my ten year old daughter…

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I had to share this document with you, as it really took me by surprise.
I’m concentrating on writing my new book at the moment, the weather being not so great, and the kids have been entertaining themselves reasonably well. After a brief period of absolute quiet (which should have immediately alerted my suspicions) my daughter called me downstairs. She wanted me to read a letter. It had just been sent to all subscribers to the Jacqueline Wilson magazine, and had been received by e-mail.
This sounded entirely plausible to me, I was fresh from the keyboard and not really fully ‘switched on’ yet. My daughter got the subscription from one set of grandparents for her tenth birthday. She is a massive fan of Jacqueline Wilson’s books and has read them all (some of them many times over). I have to admit, that I had very nearly reached the end of the letter before I realised I’d been pranked. Apologies to Jacqueline Wilson, no offence was intended, but I was so taken aback by my daughter’s insight into the doubts and thought processes of an author that I really wanted to share it with you, especially fellow writers.

(Beware, none of the following information is actually true. It comes simply from the fertile imagination of a ten year old girl…)

Dear Everyone,

I do admit I’m having trouble keeping my head bent over Little Stars. Hetty is very stubborn and sometimes I wish she was nice and charming and everybody loves her. Sadly, in this book not everybody does, and I pull a thunder face at my detailed planning jotter. But, I guess Victorian Britain couldn’t always be fancy, and some people were stuck on the kerb, with only a few pennies as a day’s wage. I have never actually written a perfect story, though I get millions of fan letters. Every book that gets published is very popular, but somehow halfway through something goes wrong, and I stop typing in disgust trying to pick up the error. My daughter Emma often comes round to check on my current work. She sometimes spots the odd spelling mistake, or full stop in the wrong place. But overall everything goes well, and Emma sips her coffee always satisfied. Not every book I write makes it to the shelves. I wrote an a hundred page book called ‘Boomerang’. It was about an orphan who travelled across the world to a foster family in Australia, and their dog is wonderful. But, then the family decide to stop fostering and the orphan is sent back to England and is left on the street by an unkind man. Luckily, he gets adopted by kindly street urchins and there’s a curtain ending. I thought it would sell well, and was even working on a sequel, but there was a big tussle with the editors, and they worried it would make children paranoid. So I reluctantly tossed that idea aside. Now Little Stars is finished I’m planning a book called ‘Bullpup’ it’s meant to be about a rather ideally large boy, who gets a bulldog for Christmas, and loves it. I haven’t quite yet figured out the rest, but by plan it causes a lot of trouble… Don’t let me get too into it!

They’re thinking of making Katy into a TV series, but judging by the progress it’s going to take several months to film. They’re thinking of making Lana West Katy, but right now she’s in Bolivia and they figure it would take way too long to sort out. The BBC broadcasting team are letting CBBC know they need to keep a space open for a new show, most likely coming out at Christmas time! Christmas is so magical, last year I got a brand new ruby ring that cost a fortune from Rachel my co-editor and a handmade festive jumper from Nick Sharratt. I love buying gifts for people too. One lovely, charming fan sent me a typed up tribute to Lola Rose one of my most popular books. I sent her a free copy of my latest annual and a hand written thank you letter. I love all my fans, and don’t feel bad if you don’t get a reply from me, I’m probably too busy writing! I send these little emails onto Word Document every now and then, for those kind enough to subscribe to my magazine. In the current issue there’s a fun little quiz, where you can find out if you’re more modern, or more Victorian. I took the test, and frankly I couldn’t decide. Thank you for stopping and reading my little message to all my dear fans. I’ll try to write another letter when I have the time.

Best wishes, Jaqueline Wilson xxx

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Want to encourage the creative urge in your kids? Embrace your own.

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When I was about three years old and my sister five, our dad, a bank manager who commuted to his London office each day, decided to re-decorate our suburban, three bedroomed semi-detached house in Essex.
In the process of this fairly mundane and entirely unremarkable task, he decided, almost inexplicably, to create a colourful painted mural up the stairs.

At the time, I thought this creation was wonderful, and something that everyone’s dad did. It perhaps took me until I had my own children to realise that it really wasn’t.
I’ve been decorating the upstairs bathroom myself this past week and although I have created murals in my children’s bedrooms at various points, I’m just not brave enough to do it elsewhere in the house. But I wholeheartedly wish I was.

Nothing appeals to children more than the feeling that their world of imagination and fun can spill over into the serious, sterile universe of the grown-ups. I can still remember that picture snaking up the twisting staircase, with perfect clarity. There were green hills, blue skies and white fluffy clouds. I’ve no idea if it was any good in an artistic sense (sorry Dad) but to my younger self this really didn’t matter. It was magical.

My sister is now a rather wonderful artist herself and I write novels. We have both embraced the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable to explore your imagination and follow it to wherever it wants to go.

Does this tendency have anything to do with that mural my father painted for us over 35 years ago? Well, I can’t prove it, but I definitely think it might have. In which case, maybe I should really consider making a similar gesture to my own children.
Because how can we expect our offspring to show their creative side if we are never prepared to reveal ours?

Writing a ghost story

The process behind the sixth novel in the Imogen and Hugh Croft Mysteries series.

The RetroReview

An old dark haunted church tower.

Having written seven novels in two different crime series, I was ready to try something new. I have always enjoyed atmospheric ghost stories, especially those with a historical element to them, so I decided to attempt something similar in my new book.
At first, I decided to make it a standalone, set in my native north Essex and in a boarding school similar to the one in which my husband works and where I used to teach. But as I began the planning phase, I realised that the story would fit very well with my husband and wife sleuths Imogen and Hugh Croft. So I devised the idea of creating a ‘story within a story’, so that Imogen could be told about events from the past and then investigate them in the present day. To this end, the book is separated into two distinct parts.
This format was also used…

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A terrible anniversary, not to be forgotten.

I started out, as a teenager, believing that the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was a terrible atrocity. But as I got older, studying History at university and then teaching the subject to secondary school students, I came to appreciate its necessity. The argument that Truman was preventing even further loss of life had won me over.
We become more pragmatic with age, more willing to balance morality with the requirements of stark realism.
As I trundle towards middle age, my children growing into independent young people, I find myself returning to the more innocent interpretation of my youth. Post Iraq, I have become a little jaded with the argument that the ends justify the means. No one has the power to act like God, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t believe he even exists.
The horrific impact of the nuclear blast, which those authorising its deployment never understood at the time, is fundamentally unjustifiable. A very good article in the New Statesman today argues that Japan did not have the tactical support or the resources necessary to continue fighting as was always claimed. Defeat would eventually have come, without the need for nuclear warfare.
I am not a pacifist, or someone who is naive to the intricacies of international diplomacy.
I simply believe there is a line that cannot be crossed, whatever the circumstances and whatever the consequences. Deploying a nuclear weapon on civilian men, women and children is one of them.
It’s been horrifying to see the pictures and hear the testimony broadcast across the media today, on the 70th anniversary of the first warhead being dropped on Hiroshima. It’s horrifying for good reason. There was an evil present in the act, made all the worse by the depressing fact that contemporaries were entirely ignorant of what would be its devastating results.
Those people were human guinea pigs. I can’t imagine any scenario in which that practice can be justifiable.
There will be many who disagree with me, including people who I respect and love. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, we can all agree that the event should be long remembered. And under no circumstances should it be repeated.

Short story v. novel, which is best?

The RetroReview

Short story v. novel, which is best?

If I were to describe myself professionally, it would be as a novelist. I write books. When I began writing seriously, I didn’t start with the shorts. I plunged straight in with a standard, 90,000 + word mystery novel.
I took this path, largely because it is full length books that I enjoy reading most. I certainly have worked my way through many anthologies of short stories and prose in my time, but I have always found something lacking in them. I think it might be that the constraints placed on the author by a limited word count mean it is difficult to fully develop the characters, or to subtly and gradually draw you into the story.
So, when I decided to write a short story to accompany my series of mystery novels, I was faced with something of a challenge. I wanted the piece to be a self-contained story…

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Does a good crime plot always have to rely on coincidence?

After a holiday full of strange coincidences, it seemed appropriate to share this blog I wrote last year.

The RetroReview

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The plotting of my books is the process I enjoy the most. My ideas are always carefully recorded in notebooks first. I try to keep one notebook for each novel, but sometimes I will have separate notes for research and story/characters. I would recommend keeping these as I refer back to them a lot. Even when penning future instalments. They can also be useful if you have any intellectual property issues further down the line.

As the structure of your mystery novel begins to take shape, you may be faced with a dilemma. You want the story to be convincing to your audience, but are also aware that to have a gripping narrative there will have to be connections between each of your plot lines and, dare I say it, certain coincidences have to occur in order for the piece to hold together.

But try not to be overly concerned…

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