Book Review: School of Wizardry

Last night I finished reading School of Wizardry (Circle of Magic, Book 1)by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald. This were slightly like Harry Potter…hang on, I checked the publication date and must change that to Harry Potter is slightly like School of Wizardry (first published in 1990).

The boy has no training but suddenly finds himself a wizard apprentice. There’s the “can’t do the spells” thing, the fiesty girl and the nasty master wizard but other than that it had a different feel to it – more medieval. I liked the way we got inside the boy’s head and although this was book 1 of 6, I liked the way it ended too. It was obvious what the next book will be about but with the addition of a couple of paragraphs, I felt satisfied with the ending and don’t have to read the next book. I hate being forced to do so, so this gave the book an extra point.

The book was entertaining. I enjoyed it.

Joining a Crit Group

I own a writing group called A Fantasy Writers Dream. It’s a group that can be quite active at times, but at others it simmers right down (that’s how it is right now). We talk about all things about writing, we offer support and encouragement and generally it’s a great place to learn and share.

However, most of the writers write adult or young adult fantasy. Whilst this is great and informative, I’m about to embark on childrens writing and felt that I needed to join a group who specialise in the younger audience. So I joined Childrens Writers, which is active and seems to be friendly too. I’m already learning more specific information about writing chapter books, which is terrific.

Then I took a step further as I decided that I wanted to join a crit group. For two reasons:

1. Receiving in-depth critiques improves the overall story, even if some comments received are way off the mark. (If this happens I always ensure that my work is clear and concise because the reader might be off the mark for a reason.)

2. Maybe having to meet an obligation will force me to write. I’m sick of talking about it (at the moment) and want to get back into actually doing it. This will be a great incentive.

So I placed a post looking for an opening in a critique group and someone else who was in a similar situation asked if I’d be interested in joining a new group. Within twenty four hours there were four of us joined up – all middle grade writers. We will keep the membership at four so that the critting doesn’t overtake the writing. This was a major concern of mine.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Links to Children’s Writers Communities and Websites

Australian Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators – I’m not sure how useful this site will be but as it concentrates on the Australian sector of children’s writers I have to include it here.

Children’s Book Council of Australia – This looks like an informative site with links to publishers etc and basic information about getting published.

YAWrite – This is a critique group. I’m told this is a group for adults (over 18) who write for children and they take all age groups from picture books right through to young adult.

The Children of Green Knowe

The Children of Green Knowe by L. M. Boston is a classic from the 1950’s. Before reading the book, I had read a few reviews that compared it to The Secret Garden.

This book didn’t do much for me. In fact, it annoyed me greatly.

It was a spooky type fantasy story, with ghosts of children from many years past visiting a child from the present. There were lots of wild animals and birds that came right up to people to be fed (this was the bit that really got to me) and then the story just ended. I didn’t feel as if there was a plot or a satisfactory ending.

Obviously, things have changed over the last 55 years and the kids of today would expect more – not to mention the publishers. I believe this was a good “what not to do” experience.

Critique Groups

In the past, from the beginning to the end of the project, I’ve pretty much been alone when I write. I’ve had little, or no, input from other writers and have had to find my own way with things. Being a bit of a loner that’s been fine but now I want to try the other side of the coin (so to speak).

Next month, after my overseas visitor has been and gone – and, I believe, who will inspire me to write even more – I plan to start writing the children’s chapter book I keep talking about. At the end of each chapter I would like to receive in-depth comments.

To do this I realise I’ll have to join a critique group, and I’ll have to give to receive. That’s fine, as long as I don’t find myself doing more critiques than I do writing. If that happens then I’ll have to rethink the situation.

I’m at the stage where I can take any comment thrown at me, analyse it then use or discard it without it affecting me. I don’t have time to sit in a corner and cry over comments that may not even be valid and if they are valid, why waste time crying? I’ve got a job to do, so I do it.

So…where do I find a decent critique group? Does anyone know? Can you recommend one?

Children love Characters

When writing for children it is important to remember that children love characters. With this in mind, it is equally important to create realistic characters that will reach out and grab the reader and take them on an adventure of a life time.

The good children in your stories must be likeable. They must have personalities that children can relate too. They must become the readers best friend.

However, don’t forget the bad children in the story too. It’s just as important to have an antagonist that the children can hate. It’s even better if that antagonist reminds them of a horrible boy or girl at school. That way they can pretend to be the protagonist and can get sweet revenge. By the time they finish reading the story, the child will feel satisfied and happy with the ending.

Once you have the connection between reader and character, the child will want to revisit your world and go on more adventures with their best friend. This will open the door for more books, books that the publishers will be eager to get printed and on the book shelves because to them it’s more money in their pocket. To you, it’s another book sold.

What is Writer’s Block?

Writer’s block is an inability to write. It’s when the words refuse to flow but it doesn’t mean the writer doesn’t have ideas. I believe it’s a mental thing, a loss of confidence or direction.

This is what Philip Pullman has to say about it:

I don’t believe in it. All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?

You have to admit that he has a point and when you look at it in this way, the dreaded writer’s block doesn’t seem so bad.

Clockwork

Yesterday, I started and finished reading Clockwork : Or All Wound Upby Philip Pullman. Sounds like a great feat, doesn’t it? There was only 81 pages so I can’t imagine anyone taking too long to read a book that thin.

This was the typical “Once upon a time…” type story. In fact, that’s exactly how it started. Those words alone told me not to take the story seriously, and although the story was put together well, in my opinion it wasn’t the best book on the face of the earth.

There was a page at the beginning that claimed that the book was based on an old German story. The surprising thing about this book was that, although it was written for children, the main characters were all adults, which is unusual. There were two children in the story who ended up having the roles that “saved the day” but they were really minor roles up till the end.

The other surprising fact about this story was the way the author talked included gory details. Remember, this book is read by children and I thought it was strange that the publishers allowed characters to be splattered, chopped up, sewn together and dead on their feet. It proves that it’s all in the wording and the tone and I felt the way the author did this was acceptable.

My recommendation? Hmmm. I can’t say I recommend it but it was a good distraction for a cold Saturday afternoon.