Thursday, 10 May 2018

Writing for Children 1 Which age group do I feel most comfortable with?

Child Animals Children Play Nature School
This first session will help you to decide who you want to write for. 

Think of a time in your childhood when you were very happy. Now tell the story of why you were so happy that day to a child.  Imagine the specific child to whom you are speaking. It is not you the adult speaking, but rather the child you were then or perhaps even a good friend of the child to whom you tell the story. 

Write for about twenty minutes or until you have finished the story, whichever you prefer.
Now read it back. 

Who is narrating the story? How old is s/he? 

Who is listening? How old is s/he?

If the two children are different ages, which one appeals to you most? That may well be the child for whom you should write.

However, it may be a good idea to try out all of the exercises in the following posts. You may yet be surprised by another idea. 

Now start reading a lot of children's books. Join your local library. Follow the hash tag #introtochildrenslit on Twitter for lots more ideas.  

Think of a book that was a favourite when you were a child. What can you tell us about the characters? The setting? The plot? What made you like it? What can you learn as a writer from that?            

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Creative Writing in Other Languages Workshop 6 Using another language to enhance your own

If you speak another language quite fluently, perhaps if you've lived in another country for a while, if you're European level B2 or above or maybe you have A-level or an IB that contains a strong element, try this:

Write in your chosen language for twenty minutes. Give yourself a topic but if you can’t think of one, write about where you are, or about a happy memory or retell a favourite story. Do not look up words you do not know. If you can’t find the right word, skirt round it, being ungrammatical if you have to.  

You may also use words from another language you know.

Then, translate what you have written into English. You will notice that you have written much more simply and probably also more effectively than if you had gone straight into English. Less is more. If you used a language in which you are fluent, you may have imported some interesting idioms, euphemisms or phrases that are clichés in the foreign language but are pleasingly fresh in your own.   

A bit of fun:


A bilingual dictionary in your chosen language.


Spend ten minutes doing this every so often – once a week, once in a blue moon, once a month. 
Choose a letter of the alphabet. Read through the dictionary looking for idiomatic and eccentric words. Collect some words and try to get them into your writing. 

German is a particularly good language for this. For instance, a helicopter is a “hopping screwdiver”, a nurse is an “ill-person’s sister”, an ambulance is “rescue car” and a mole is a “gob throw”.  French has some beauties as well: rat poison is “death to the rats”, bungee jumping is “jump on elastic”, a bat is “bald mouse” and the word for dustbin sounds like “smells beautiful (female)”.

Use these new expressions in your writing.

Here is a piece of such writing I’ve used in a novel. I was in Holland when I wrote it. Dutch has similar “building-block” words to German.

‘May I call eye-baller Thomant, who says the blamed watched Old Mother Gossipen struggle up the penty-slope from the provisions centre. He did indeed carry her holdy-all, but only as far as their path followed the same direction aim. He should have gone the extra mile to her living-in.’ (The Prophecy 229)             



Collect these words whilst in a country where people speak your chosen language.
Collect them also, as you work on other exercises. Once you’re aware of them, you’ll keep on seeing them.      


As collecting the words and phrases becomes a habit, you might consider also looking for proverbs and sayings from other languages. They are clichés in their own language but can sound fresh in another one. 

For example, when everybody suddenly stops talking, the French say “It’s an angel passing over”. In German, interfering people may be accused of putting their mustard on somebody else’s sausage and rather than treading on people’s toes, they tread on others’ ties. A clever pun exists in Spanish because “to be superior” to someone is to “lie on top of them” and many a Spanish husband is very proud of being superior to his wife. But let’s hope they didn’t also eat the soup before mid-day because that leads to pregnancy before marriage. The Greeks rather charmingly tell us that one swallow does not mean that spring has arrived.  


Saturday, 31 March 2018

Creative Writing in Other Languages Workshop 5 Using grammatical patterns

There is a musicality about many grammatical patterns. We can use the rhythms and repetitions to reinforce the form. We can also use it to create something that is aesthetically pleasing.

Do you remember the poem by Jacques Prévert that manipulates the prefect tense?

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler
Il a allumé
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s'est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu'il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder

When I was taught languages by the old "grammar grind" method, one of the joys was chanting out declensions and conjugations in competition with the class next door. Sometimes it was even in a different language.  

It made the patterns stick. But you can also play with those patterns and a heck of a lot of meaning can be punched into a few words. Study Prévert's poem, the picture at the beginning of this post and the other German example below:

Ich habe einen Vater
Ich habe keinen Bruder
Ich habe einen Hund.
Now have a go yourself.