As part of our Reading Activists' campaign to share information about how young people can get involved in creative reading and writing things, author Laura Powell stopped by to offer some words of wisdom. Laura is the author of Burn Mark, an amazing new fantasy novel for teens from Bloomsbury.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A theatre set designer. I had a little model theatre that was my favourite toy as a child, and I'd spend hours making sets and characters for it. Writing became the next best way to create different worlds.
What does a day in the life of a published author look life?
There are quite a lot of biscuit and web breaks in it, if I'm honest. I like to work in short concentrated bursts, with plenty of procrastination in between - my best working times are first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Although I never write much more than 300 - 500 words a day, they're usually quite "final" words, so I don't have to do very much re-drafting.
It's pretty much just me and the book until first draft is delivered and I start working with my editor to whip it into shape. Around publication date there's a lot more activity, as I spend time visiting schools and bookshops and doing other promotional events. After being alone with the book for so long, I really enjoy getting out to the big bad world and talking about it with people.
Do you have any top creative writing tips?
Write the story you'd like to read. Beware of trends - they vanish as quickly as they appear.
Find a working method that suits you. Some people are planners and like to work out all the details before they begin. Others prefer a more, er, organic approach (otherwise known as making it up as you go along.) But either way, you need to start with deciding the kind of story you want to write, the main characters and the general direction of the plot. Then try and write something every day. You need to make it as natural a part of your routine as brushing your teeth.
If you're not quite ready to write a novel, start by keeping a journal. The discipline of writing regularly, as well as the practise of putting thoughts and feelings into words, is great training. Just remember to keep your secrets under lock and key...
What do you do when you get writer's block?
House work! Sad, but true. As a result, I always have a sparkling bath tub and no dirty plates in the sink. It's good to concentrate on something purely practical rather than being stuck in your own head. Cooking helps too, as does a nice brisk walk. Coming back to the problem, I lie on my bed and brainstorm with an old fashioned ink pen and paper. The computer doesn't get turned back on until I know what the next step in the story is.
What advice would you give to any aspiring young creative writers who would like to get their work published?
Very few publishers have the time or resources to look at an unknown writer's work, so it's essential to find a good literary agent to represent you. The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook lists all the agents' contact details and tells you the kind of books they specialise in, as well as giving lots of advice about how to approach them. Get involved in the writing community - there are lots of great online forums where you'll get lots of feedback and encouragement.
Stay hopeful, but be realistic. The sad fact is, talent and hard work will only take you part of the way. The rest is luck and timing.
Obviously, there's no such thing as a 'favourite book', but perhaps you could recommend a few books that you think had the biggest impact on your development as a writer?
I love illustrated books and mourn the fact that once you learn how to read large chunks of prose the pictures suddenly vanish. My favourite picture book is probably
Outside Over There, by Maurice Sendak. Each line of the story is a poem in itself, and the pictures are rich and dreamlike, with an edge of danger that still sends a shiver down my spine. The Midnight Folk by John Masefield has that same mix of mystery and magic, and is probably my favourite children's book.
The author I most admire is Jane Austen, because she's witty and tough and fiercely clever. And the collected stories of Jorge Luis Borges have definitely inspired me. His stories are connected by motifs such as dreams, mirrors, mazes, libraries and time - great fodder for a fantasy writer. Otherwise ... anything by Margaret Atwood, Mary Renault and E. Nesbitt.
Is there a creative words-based career that you would like to know more about? Get in touch to let us know and we'll see if we can find someone to interview and tell you more.
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