Happy Birthday, Mr Dahl.

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it
Roald Dahl.

It is far beyond my capability to say anything about the man, his life or his work that hasn’t been said already; but the idea of allowing this day to sail past without marking it in some way didn’t sit quite right with me.

To say this man influenced my writing would be more than a slight understatement. It would be more accurate to say that the entire idea of trying to put words together to try and form something coherent from the odd walks that my mind takes would never have entered my head at all without his work.  Quite apart from that, until fairly recently I found it  difficult to communicate with people my own age, and for about three years when I was a child I didn’t really feel like I had anything to say to anyone, and that the things I did say were the wrong ones. I spent a great deal of that time making medicine with George and hanging out with giant grasshoppers and watching the Twits torture each other. I’ll never be able to repay my debt to Roald Dahl, but my own writing is, in part, an attempt to thank him.

An awful lot of people struggle to externalize what happens within their imaginations and an awful lot more don’t think that their imaginations are worth the effort. Well I’m sure Roald Dahl, and certainly myself, think that the world needs a little more magic so take a leaf out of one of the storyteller-in-chief’s many, many books and have a go.

 

Somehow it feels fitting to share a (very short) extract from my own book, inspired by my time wandering around in Roald Dahl’s head;

“His mind could still reach for the reverie that had lead him to drink the rain and he had found himself retreading the same path more than once in the time since, his journeys through the clouds in particular sustained him during the solitude and he had allowed his mind to wander much further than his body ever would. Exotic lands like Cambodia, so far from the reach of his steam powered legs, were no issue for his imagination. The heights of the Himalayas had been scaled, and he had partaken recklessly in the continued destruction of the Palaces of Montezuma and the city of Pompeii. His limited frame of physical reference created no barrier to Arnold’s mind and as he walked he once again allowed himself to relax and reach towards the clouds that directed him, conversing in a language that made no sound and had no real form and becoming himself weightless once more.”

Please note that the image at the head of this post is the work of an extremely talented artist I’m lucky enough to spend my life with, Jessica Arrowsmith Stanley, (JazzStan)  whose beautiful work is available here.

Stay magic.

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In Conversation With; Isabelle Sudron

Moving forwards, to make sure that this isn’t just a blog full of me blathering about my own work and to provide a wider perspective on the weird and wonderful world of writing I will be pestering various literary types into answering some questions for the delight and betterment of all.

First up; Isabelle Sudron, a young lady that I met at University who, in an apparent contravention of the laws of physics, has a smile bigger than her whole head. Please take the time to check out her undeniably snazzy website HERE or indeed HERE before reading our hard-hitting expose on the life of an aspiring children’s author.

 

Writing Strange Give us a little background on yourself. What was the moment it clicked that you’re a writer and what are your ambitions moving forwards?

Isabelle Sudron I’ve always written stories and poems but I never really considered myself a writer. I felt silly calling myself a writer when I mostly just sit in a room alone, type some words, delete said words, and start again. Then, somewhere along the line, my definition of a ‘good day’ became measured by how much writing I got done. That’s when I thought, ‘I guess I’m a writer now!’
And, in terms of my ambitions, I’d just like to write for a living everyday – that’s the dream!

WS What are you working on at the moment, how far along are you?

IS I recently finished writing my first children’s book, Olive in the Heights, and it’s now in the hands of a number of lovely beta readers. So, right now, I’m waiting in fear for feedback. The next step is making a few final tweaks to my manuscript (I hope) and then harassing literary agents across the land!

WS What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your career and how did you do it?

IS A few years ago, I quit my job, moved back home and took an unpaid internship to get some experience in storytelling. My employer was a nightmare – think Miss Trunchbull meets administration – and at the end of two months of hard work, she assured me that I wouldn’t make it as a writer. So, I was unemployed, inexperienced and apparently talentless too. I felt pretty low and I spent a long time struggling to decide whether to prove ol’ Trunchbull wrong or throw in the towel. There was lots of soul searching, feeling sorry for myself and comfort eating. But, eventually, I decided I had nothing to lose. I got myself a part-time job and I focused all my spare time on writing a book.
Although that felt like a pretty rough milestone in my career, it’s probably also what kickstarted it. Thank goodness for the real-life Trunchbulls, eh?

WS When and how did you decide to produce work for a younger audience, do you have any particular influences?

IS As a reader, I don’t think I’ve ever really grown out of children’s books. I love the fact that anything and everything can happen, characters can be eccentric and plots can be so random. And as a writer, I love the fact that children are willing to suspend their disbelief for a great story. I feel like that creates so many more possibilities for writing. My main influence has to be Philip Ridley, he is my absolute writing Yoda! His books have eccentric characters and unusual plots, all while being set in average neighbourhoods that lots of kids actually live in. I still read his books when I need a bit of inspiration (and sometimes just for fun too).

WS Is there anything you’ve learned in the course of your efforts that you think of as being particularly useful to people in a similar position?

IS For me, planning is essential. Yes, it can be boring and frustrating, but it shaves so many hours off editing. The most useful resource I’ve found, in terms of story planning, is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and his ‘beat sheets’. Although they’re intended for screenwriters, I’ve still found them really useful. Another important thing I’ve learnt is that you don’t necessarily need to be a good writer to be a good storyteller. In the words of Elmore Leonard, “Write the book the way it should be written, then give it to somebody to put in the commas and shit.”

WS And just to be mean, what are your three favourite pieces of writing?

IS That is such a difficult question! I’d have to go for:
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and
Mighty Fizz Chilla by Philip Ridley.
I like books where you really get to see the characters grow and these three books do just that!