I love getting the opportunity to speak with published authors about their writing processes. Every single insight they give us is a form of professional development that can build our confidence and competence to teach writing more effectively (and more authentically). Reading insights from a range of authors can help to build a clearer picture about the truth of lifelong writing so that we can share this with our students.
This week I interviewed award winning author, Carole Wilkinson about all things writing.
Carol’s book, Matthew Flinders: Adventures on Leaky Ships is shortlisted in the Eve Pownall category of the 2021 CBCA awards. It was a book that took me by pleasant surprise when I was judging and it highlights Carole’s ability to find the story in the facts when writing non-fiction. (See my blog on judging the CBCA awards to read more about why this is an important skill to have when writing non-fiction).
Carole has written many books including the very popular Dragonkeeper series which is now being made into a movie (due for release early in 2022). Carole writes fiction and non-fiction, novels and picture story books. Her latest picture book, Earth Matters, is about loving and caring for the planet we live on.
Carole provides some great information here that could be shared with your students (especially if you’re reading her Matthew Flinders book as part of the upcoming Book Week celebrations).
Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Everywhere. Inspiration for fiction has come from a 1000 year old Chinese book, a coffee table book on Egyptian Pharaohs, my daughter’s life when she was a teenager. But most ideas that turn this initial inspiration into a novel, come from out of my head.
Where do you store your ideas?
I have a notebook for each project, where I scribble down ideas and inspiration. I’ve seen other writers’ notebooks which are neat and immaculately kept. Mine are usually a mess. A lot of what I write down in my notebooks, I never go back to. It is the process of writing it down that is important. The useful and inspirational stuff just sticks in my head. I also have a folder where I keep photocopies of articles, extracts from books etc which I collect while I’m doing research. (I have never written a book that didn’t require research). And since I’ve been using the writing software Scrivener, I write a lot of my ideas and research in that.
How do you decide which idea you want to turn into a book?
It’s the idea that won’t go away. The one I am most enthusiastic about. I work out the plot, the turning points, on my whiteboard and then write a synopsis, just a page or two. I then send the synopsis to my publisher to see if she’s interested in publishing it. If she isn’t, I don’t write it. I keep it somewhere in case I want to try another publisher, but that’s not happened yet.
What is the process you use to write your books?
For long-form fiction I try and write 1000 words a day. After I’ve written a certain amount, maybe 20,000 words, I read it through and mark changes in red. When the story is finished, I read it through and mark changes again and again. Until I’m happy with it, or until the publishing deadline approaches and I have to hand it over to my publisher.
What things do you think about when writing your books?
To be honest, I only think about my readers when I’m considering the language and if it’s going to be comprehensible to the particular age range. I also think about what needs to be explained to them, and what doesn’t.
Most of the time I’m writing for myself. It might take me a year, two years, to write a novel. The story has to engage me first or I’d never finish it.
How many drafts do you do when writing your books?
First drafts are never perfect! I write many drafts. Maybe ten. Certain parts, particularly action scenes, might need more. I never sit back and think, “Right that’s perfect.” I keep making changes until the final draft is due.
How do you get feedback on your ideas and your writing?
From my first readers: my daughter Lili, my husband John and of course my publisher, Maryann Ballantyne. They are all readers, reading it for the first time, so I take notice of what they say.
You have written fiction and non-fiction books, what was the difference for you in writing these?
With one you have to stick to the facts. With the other you can make up whatever you like! But basically, it’s the same. I want to write a story and it has to have a plot. Non-fiction isn’t just a list of facts. I have to find the turning points, and resist the urge to put everything in. Non-fiction still has to be a page-turning story, in my opinion.
Who influenced you to become a writer?
Just me. It’s solitary work. It’s not like school or a job where there is someone saying you have to do it. You need to be able to get up in the morning and feel like the only thing you want to do is get back to writing that book.
What advice do you have for young writers?
Ask yourself do you enjoy writing stories? And, can you finish them? You have to enjoy the process of writing. But, if you want to be a professional writer, you have to be able to finish your stories. No one is going to publish an unfinished story. Or finish it for you.
Carol also posted these great tips for young writers on her website:
- Write lots. The more you write, the better you get.
- Try different types of stories — adventure stories, scary stories, historical stories, true stories. I didn’t decide to be a children’s writer straight away. I was trying to write for adults when someone suggested I try writing for kids. It wasn’t until I had a go that I realised writing for kids suited me perfectly.
- Never be happy with a first draft. Reread and rewrite. About half the time I spend writing a book is spent rewriting.
- Don’t think you have to write a novel first off. And never try to make a story longer once you have got to the end. There is no set length for a story. A story can be six lines or it might be 600 pages. A story is as long as it takes to tell.
- Keep writing. If you wanted to be a world-class swimmer or runner, you would practise and practise until you got really good. It’s the same with writing. Even if you are writing a review of the school play for the newsletter, it’s still writing. It’s all good practice.
What are your contact details (if teachers want to get in contact with you)?
email@example.com or you can contact Booked Out Speaker Agency to organise a school visit.
Some of Carole’s books:
- Earth matters- illustrated by Hilary Cresp, published by Wild Dog Books
- Putting Australia on the map- published by Wild Dog Books
- Matthew Flinders: Adventures on leaky ships- illustrated by Prue Pittock, published by Wild Dog Books
- Ten Pound Pom- illustrated by Liz Anelli, published by Wild Dogs Books
- Inheritance- published by Walker Books Australia
- Dragonkeeper- published by Walker Books Australia
- Black snake: the daring of Ned Kelly- published by Walker Books Australia
Related Blog Posts:
- Is Non-Fiction Dead? Insights From A Book Week Judge
- Interview With Author/Illustrator Sami Bayly
- Interview With Author Kaye Baillie