How I begin writing a new novel …

For the past year or so I have been working hard at completely redrafting existing novels after learning more about the craft and realising that I could do so much better. Two of them are now being sent out to agents and publishers, so it’s time to write a completely new story.

Where to begin?

I’ve got ideas for sequels, but have been advised not to write these until (fingers and toes crossed) I get the first one published. Lots of ideas for brand new stories have circulated my brain, but none have excited me. Then, last week, I woke up with a concept that made me reach for a new notepad!

I scribbled down everything that was buzzing in my head – in no particular order, just a random collection of thoughts. At this stage, it was more of a concept than an actual story.

At the moment this is my secret world. I can have fun with it and play around with ideas, letting my mind run off in different directions as I explore the possibilities of various plot lines. Much of this happens in my head before the more promising thoughts make it to my notepad.

During this process, I’m getting to know my main characters. There is a great debate about whether to start with character or plot. Personally, I think that they are interlinked – the plot is driven by the character, as much as the character is formed by the plot.

I’m now starting to get a sense of what my characters look like, but more importantly, what their personalities are like. I find the following questions really helpful:

  • What is the characters greatest fear?
  • What is his/her motivation?
  • What is the ultimate goal?
  • How will he/she react in different situations?
  • What barriers will my main character have to overcome and how will they do this?

Answers to these questions are vital to the plot.

Once the character has begun to form, I write a biography for future reference. This helps to make sure that the colour of his/her eyes doesn’t change half way through or a sibling turns up when previously the character had been described as an only child! All the answers to the above questions are noted too. It’s usually only in my note pad, nothing grand and official, but really useful as the novel length grows.

The next stage is to peg out the plot …





Searching for an Agent or Publisher

My manuscript is finished and the one page synopsis has been honed, all with the excellent help of my Cornerstones mentor, Sandra Glover. Now it’s time to take several deep breaths and send my baby out into the world of agents and publishers.

I’m grateful to Cornerstones for their encouraging words about Gravy Danger! They have added to my confidence in my manuscript and make me feel that it is ready to be sent.

But, where to start?

Sandra suggested sending to one large agency, one small agency and a publisher. I am also entering it a couple of competitions.


I began by researching authors of humorous children’s fiction to find out who their agents were. Then, I looked the agencies up in the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2018 and investigated them on the internet. I already follow lots of children’s authors and agents on Twitter and am signed up to various blogs, so this also helped me to know who I felt might be interested in my book.

It is a time-consuming process but important to get right.

Each agency asks for slightly different things and so it is really important to check the submission guidelines carefully. However, as a general rule they all ask for the following:

  • A one page synopsis
  • The first 3 chapters
  • A covering letter

Again, what an agent wants in the covering letter varies, but most seem to want:

  1. A hook to grab their attention about your book. For this, I used the 75 word synopsis/blurb that I had written when thinking about my synopsis. Reading blurbs on the back of similar books also helped.
  2. The There are lots of websites that can help here.
  3. The final word count.
  4. The books unique selling point. What is it that will make your book stand out from the crowd? What is special about it?
  5. A short biography relating to your writing history.

Many of the websites stress that the letter should be short. When they are receiving a couple of hundred manuscripts a week, they haven’t got time for waffle!

Just occasionally, they seem to also want a CV. I hadn’t written a CV for writing before and wasn’t quite sure where to start. The Scottish Book Trust was helpful. If any of you have any other advice on this I would be grateful.


Personally, I want to try the traditional publishing route, but there don’t seem to be many publishers out there who accept unsolicited manuscripts. I found the Lou Treleaven’s website a good place to start:

When researching publishers, do be careful. There are quite a few which look so encouraging, but are actually ‘vanity’ publishers. You will need to pay to get your book published with these.

Writing Competitions

There are lots of writing competitions out there, but most are for short stories or adult fiction. I am looking for competitions which will help to get my children’s book seen by agents. Here are a few that I have found:

Undiscovered Voices

Bath Children’s Novel Award

The Times Chicken House Children’s Fiction Prize

Please let me know of any more. Thanks.

With a whole flock of butterflies dancing in my tummy, I have sent Gravy Danger! off to a big agency and am currently preparing to send to a publisher. One competition has been entered. I have everything crossed (which is making typing a bit tricky!) and now have to wait. With luck, I will get some feedback to help me improve; with a huge amount of luck, I will be asked to send the whole manuscript. I have worked really hard and produced a book that is the best that I can make it, so what ever happens next, I am proud of it. I really want to share Gavin’s world and his inventions with the world.

Have I succeeded in my quest to go from writer to author? Time will tell.

Meanwhile …

I am already working on the plot for another adventure …

Writing the One Page Synopsis

With my manuscript virtually complete, I have now been trying to perfect the dark art of writing the one page synopsis! Again, the help that I have had from my mentor Sandra Glover from Cornerstones Literacy Consultancy has been invaluable. Another useful source has been the SCBWI website and Facebook group, which are full of tips. Lastly, I have taken advice from the submission pages of various agents.

Before beginning, I spent time making sure that I was really clear in my own mind what the main thread of the plot is. To focus my mind I tried to write three sentences to sum it up. I would really recommend this, even though it might seem impossible to begin with. You’ve just written 30,000+ words and now you need to condense it into 75 words or so.

I actually found it fun playing around with sentences to say as much as possible with as little as possible. If someone was to ask me what my book is about, I can answer them concisely and at the same time give a flavour of its quirky humour.

For the actual writing of the one page synopsis, I mainly followed the template below:

Paragraph 1:                Set-up – introduce main character plus problems/goal

Paragraph 2:                Inciting event

Paragraphs 3-5:           Turning points/mini-climaxes of the story (including character arc)

Paragraph 6:                Rug-pulling moment and darkest moment

 Paragraph 7:                Climax

 Paragraph 8:                Resolution with a focus on how the main character has changed

Initially, I wrote too much detail. If you read different agents’ submission pages they will tell you that they don’t actually want every twist and turn of the plot. They want a sense of the main character(s) arc and where the story is heading.

It took me quite a while to write the first draft and to get it down to one page. I kept asking myself if each sentence was vital to the plot or the character’s journey. If it wasn’t, it was cut. At the same time I tried to convey the quirkiness of the story.

I sent this to Sandra. She used this as a basis to write a version showing me how to set it out, leaving a line in between each short paragraph, and clearly showing the stages of the plot. From this I have then played around with it, until I now have a much clearer and improved one page synopsis.

I would love to know how you have approached writing yours. Please let me know your tips.

The next step will be to research which agent would be the best match for my book and to write the covering letter.


For the last few weeks I have been immersed in Gavin’s world; re-drafting and editing with the support of Sandra Glover, my Cornerstones mentor. It has been very hard work, scary at times, but so rewarding.

In my previous blog, I wrote about experimenting with ways to show my main character’s thoughts. After trying out the various methods, I hit upon the version that suited me (and Gavin) and in doing so I found my all elusive ‘voice’.

The key aspect for me in this whole process has been about really seeing everything from the main protagonist’s point of view. I am totally in Gavin’s head! By doing this it has also made editing much simpler. If Gavin doesn’t know something, then neither does the reader. The reader is therefore going on the journey with him.

Cutting whole paragraphs, or even chapters was a very scary prospect. Would I ruin the whole thing by getting rid of some much loved chunks of writing or even, dare I say it, characters? The simple answer is, no, quite the opposite in fact.

Having another pair of eyes, someone who really ‘gets’ my story, has been invaluable in helping with the re-drafting and editing process. Sandra has made me think about and question my own writing. She has guided me to be able to self-edit.

All the way through the editing process I have kept three things in mind:

  1. Does Gavin know this, or need to know this, yet?
  2. Does this chapter/paragraph/sentence add to the story?
  3. Are the stakes getting greater?

With these questions I mind, editing became straight forward. Sticking to what is essential to the plot has made the writing much tighter and more exciting. Sadly, the Prime Minister and a Great Aunt just had to go as they weren’t contributing enough to the story. A whole section, which had been lovingly crafted to show just how messy a heap Gavin’s bedroom is, also went … along with much more. Unfortunately, this led to one or two of Gavin’s favourite gadget inventions also being “uninvented”!

Whole new sections have been written as a result of the tightening up of the plot. However, I found that they came relatively easily because I knew where the plot needed to head and how Gavin would react I each situation.

What I’m left with, is a clearer, more focused adventure, full of quirky, eccentric characters and inventions. The reader experiences Gavin’s many disasters and triumphs, alongside him. They are with him in his darkest hour and feel his despair; his questions are their questions as he battles with his lack of self-belief; and they celebrate with him when things actually go right for him.

The next stage is to write, the dreaded one page synopsis … if you have any tips for doing this please comment below.

Redrafting: Thoughts on thoughts

Mostly, the new long synopsis seems to be working. The marked up notes from my mentor, Sandra, were generally positive, with a few minor points to think about. She suggested that the next step should be to work on the submission to agents’ package – 1 page synopsis, cover letter & first 3 chapters/50 pages. Another step closer … yay!

So, I have started by re-drafting the first 50 pages. Having the long synopsis to refer to is great and I’m finding the writing is going well. I have opened up a new word document for this. Where appropriate, I am copying and pasting passages that already work well from the previous draft, but mostly I am writing it anew. Techniques which I have learnt from Sandra on writing mean that it’s much clearer and sparklier. However, I am really struggling with one aspect of the writing: showing the main characters thoughts.

IN GRAV(e)Y DANGER! or Gravy Danger! (as it is now called) is written in the third person, past tense, but from the main characters point of view. This has good and bad points. By being from the Gavin’s view, it really draws the reader in and makes them empathise with him. The drawback is that you can only show what he knows – unlike an omnipresent narrator who can give additional information. One of the ways I am trying to show what he knows or feels about things is through his thoughts. This sounds simple enough, but there are so many ways to do it!

Thanks to some very helpful advice from fellow members of SCBWI_BI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) I have learnt loads about how to do this. Below is an article on Deep POV and another is by Cheryl Reif – Writing Your Character’s Thoughts: 3rd Person Limited POV:

The issue I have is whether the thought should be in the past or present tense.

If I was to write his thoughts as if Gavin was speaking out loud, they would definitely be in the present tense.

e.g.  Gavin burst into the room. “Hmm…so where’s that alien?”

However, as a thought would it be the same?

A) Gavin burst into the room. Hmm…so where’s that alien? (present tense)


B) Gavin burst into the room. Hmm … so where was that alien? (past tense)

or even:

C) Gavin burst into the room. Hmm … so where was that alien? (past tense)

Sandra has advised me to experiment using different ways and to read it out loud to anyone willing to listen! This should help me to decide which works best for my style and voice. So far I am favouring C.

Please can you comment below as to which style I should use? Many thanks.

Writing the new long synopsis

After the Skype meeting with Sandra (my mentor from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy), my mind was buzzing with ideas about how to firm up the plot. I spent the next couple of days lost in Gavin’s world thinking about how the various characters would behave and react in the different scenarios which we had discussed. As I went about my day, took a couple of long walks, cut the grass, and cleaned the house… in fact, all the time… Gavin, Granny, Gizmo, Auntie Deborah and The Roaster roamed around my head. I had so many ideas it was hard to know which way to turn.

I have to admit that at one point I felt totally overwhelmed by it.

Then, my many years as a Primary School teacher led me to the solution. I got a piece of sting and strung it up in my little writing room. Then I literally pegged out the key features of a three act story:


  • The Set-up
  • The Inciting Event


  • At least three conflicts and attempts to overcome them
  • The high point
  • Rug-pulling moment
  • The hero’s darkest hour


  • Climax
  • Resolution

After this, I wrote down my plot onto bits of paper, bearing in mind the cause and effect of each scene. I pegged each piece of paper onto the appropriate section along my sting. This enabled me to swap and change things around until I felt that the plot worked.

Have you tried doing this or something similar? Please comment below.

Before doing this, my previous draft had a similar story but lacked clear progression and structure. Now I feel that the tension rises and that the stakes are higher. I have also simplified some areas of the story which were unnecessarily overly complicated.

Having done all this, I have now written the story out as a long synopsis (6 pages) and sent it to Sandra. Hopefully, I have addressed the main weaknesses in the plot, but I’ll wait to see that she thinks.


Plot for IGD pegged on line June 2017
Pegged out Plot

First Skype meeting: Firming up the plot.

This morning I had my first Skype meeting with my mentor, Sandra Glover, from Cornerstones Literacy Consultancy. It was fantastic!

We began by discussing the re-drafted first three chapters. To my great joy and relief, Sandra was very complimentary about the changes I’d made so far, from the advice she’d given me in the report.

  • Staring in a different place is working well. It definitely grabs the reader’s attention
  • Rather than ‘telling’ what the character is doing there is now much more action
  • I’d worked hard at making sure that it was all from the main characters point of view and this had really improved too.

There are still a few things to work on:

  • Checking the main characters thoughts are in the right tense;
  • Keeping the writing tight e.g. ‘He shrugged,’ rather than, ‘He shrugged his shoulders.
  • Sticking to ‘said’ rather than words like ‘mouthed’.
  • The occasion cliché (e.g. ‘gritted teeth’) still need changing.

Over all Sandra said that my writing is good and in places excellent! This is really reassuring and encouraging.

The rest of the Skype meeting was spent discussing how to firm-up the plot. When I signed up for mentoring, this was the area which I felt I needed help with and this is proving to be the case. It is astonishing how much can be learnt in a 25/30 minute discussion! The main ideas are there, but I need to work on raising the stakes.

We had a great chat about more plausible reasons why the main character acts as he does. Character motivation and therefore how he would react in different situations was also explored. Ideas bounced between us. What was so lovely was how Sandra was totally on board with the zany, bonkers world I’ve created. Some of her ideas tied in really well with thoughts I’d already had.

This led to seeing how to raise the stakes and what obstacles could be put in the way. The main character already faces many obstacles, but I need to think more about the progression of these; in other words, how to make the obstacles get bigger each time. Sandra told me to bear in mind the following for each scene:

  • What?
  • Why?
  • How does the character react?
  • What does this lead to next?

This should give a stronger sense of escalation.

My head is buzzing with ideas! The next stage is for me to write a 4 or 5 page synopsis of the new, improved plot. I can’t wait …

Initial feedback from my Mentor

After an initial email conversation with my mentor – award-winning author Sandra Glover ( – it was decided that she would begin by looking at my synopsis and first three chapters, as this is what most agents and publishers ask for.

I have now received the marked-up version – this is where my mentor has added notes in the margin relating to specific points. Here she explains both what is working and what needs attention. Alongside this she has sent a short report.

I have to say that it wasn’t just a flutter of butterflies in my tummy, but a whole swarm of them as I clicked to open it. To my relief she had started on a positive note, saying “there is a lot of promising material here and the writing is lively and mainly accurate.” She also liked my “zany ideas”.

The report then focused on two key areas to work on:

  1. To make sure that everything is shown through the main protagonist’s eyes
  2. Firming up the structure of the plot

To help with the first point, Sandra sent some very helpful supplementary notes on ‘showing not telling’. I thought that I had tried to do this throughout my manuscript, but having read the supplement and the mark-up, I can see that sometimes I am too authorial, rather than showing what the character is feeling/doing.

I have already begun redrafting the first three chapters. Although it is written in the third person, I am keeping to Gavin’s point of view all the time. Already I feel even more connected to him. I know what he will do and how he will react without having to think too hard. Changing bits to show the action is not as difficult as I thought it would be. It was a case of reading the supplement and kicking myself for not having done more of it before.

On the second point, again Sandra sent a supplement on plot. I had tried to stick to the ‘Hero’s journey’ when planning my story. At this stage I am not sure whether it is just that I haven’t made the plot as clear as I could in my synopsis or whether there are flaws that need addressing. I will use the template that she has given me for the synopsis to see if I can make the plot clearer. Doing this, alongside the supplement on plotting, will help me to see where the weaknesses lie. One suggestion was to begin in a slightly different place and so far this seems to be working well. It is following a more logical route than it was before.

Working on these three chapters has some way to go yet, but I wanted to try some things out before skying Sandra to discuss it.

So far, mentoring is just what I hoped it would be. I can’t wait to learn more to grow my story and add sparkle.

Sending to a Literary Consultancy

About a decade ago I was tutoring a boy who didn’t want to read, so I started to write a story for him. I got hooked on writing and it is now part of my everyday life. Having completed an Open University course on writing; attended a course on writing children’s fiction with Book Bound; read the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook from cover to cover; set up a critique group for writers’; joined SCBWI_BI; and completed three novels, I am definitely a writer. But, is that the same as being an author? I somehow feel that you have to be published to qualify as an author. This blog will follow my progress as I aim to become an author.

A few months ago I revisited my first book. It was like meeting up with old friends. I quickly realized how much my writing had improved in the intervening years, but also how much I loved my first main character (a self-doubting Top Secret Gadget Inventor) and wanted a better story for him. Over the last few months I have completely rewritten IN GRAV(e)Y DANGER! (even changing it’s name to Gravy Danger!) Now there is a fantastically bonkers, wonderfully encouraging granny; an evil auntie and an alien in the mix. It has been an absolute joy, but a lot of hard work, to write it.

Last week I took a very deep breath and sent the first 10 pages to Cornerstones Literary Consultancy ( to see if I was as at stage when they could help me to take it to the next level. It was like sending one of my children off for an exam! Within a couple of days I had some fantastic feedback saying that I was a “talented writer” and that my “voice is perfectly-pitched to your audience”. I felt like I’d won the lottery.

I have been assigned a mentor, who will work with me for 12 hours to make the book as good as I can get it. So, yesterday I sent my complete manuscript off to her…gulp, gulp…and now have a nail-biting wait for feedback…