Catherine Johnson is an award-winning children’s and YA author. Her book Sawbones won the Young Quills Prize for best Historical Fiction and was nominated for the Carnegie medal in 2015. Her historical middle grade novel Freedom won the 2019 Little Rebels Award for Radical Children's Fiction. Catherine is also the tutor of our three-month online Writing YA & Children’s Fiction.
Here's some of her expert advice on how to write for children to help get you inspired to create stories for younger readers...
1. Find your best writing routine
Make writing a habit – and find the routine that works best for you. Some writers have collections of beloved Moleskine notebooks, but I find this off putting, as it feels the notebook is too good for whatever I’m going to scrawl in it. Instead, I buy the crappiest school exercise books (preferably squared, not lined) and work in those.
2. Play and experimentation
I believe all writing, whether for adults or children, is a form of play – and often we stymie ourselves by demanding results without giving ourselves the room to find the joy and originality in our own writing.
It is vital that you allow yourself to try things out, to explore your ideas, even when the ideas can sometimes seem ridiculous.
3. Look around you
Let yourself be inspired by the sulky, intimidating kids in the park, the ones who sit at the back of the bus as well as those more civilised looking ones who perhaps are hatching all sorts of plans behind their well-behaved smiles. Remember we’re writing for today’s (and tomorrow’s) readers – their childhoods will be completely different from ours. Your job is to reflect life on the streets outside our windows right now, in all its diversity – and that’s not just for people writing realist fiction – it still applies even if you are writing fantasy or dystopia.
4. Find inspiration through reading
It’s vital to read widely. I guarantee that for any problem you have with your writing, you’ll find the answer in an existing novel.
If you are lucky enough to have a local independent bookshop with a decent-sized children’s section, talk to the bookseller about what’s new and exciting. A good bookshop will help you see the trends.
Check out book awards: The Carnegie is the most prestigious but there is also a slew of regional and local awards. Funny awards – The Lollies, The Bookseller’s Young Adult Prize, Radical books – Little Rebels – you name it, there’s a prize. Take a look at the winning books.
Make sure that you read books written for the age group you’re writing for so that you can understand your genre and what children are reading right now. It will help you sort out tone.
5. Blogs and social media
The Internet is our friend – there are so many writers’ blogs out there – find some that interest you. The real force to be reckoned with today has to be the army of vociferous and influential book bloggers and vloggers. Find some that you like and trust. See what they recommend. Twitter too, has UKYA twitter evenings and UKMG evenings too – (Young Adult and Middle Grade, but you knew that). Follow the hashtags and join in the conversation. The children’s book world is very friendly.