Thursday 17 February 2011

Barry Cunningham's top tips for writing children's fiction

In August 1996, Barry Cunningham spotted a manuscript about a boy wizard with a jagged scar on his forehead and the rest is history. 
If Barry Cunningham has any advice on writing I'm going to tattoo it on my forehead until it is learned - and invest in laser removal surgery later ;) 
Barry is currently the editor, managing director, of Chicken House Publishing. Sadly they are no longer able to accept unsolicited submissions. However, with The Times newspaper they run the Children's Fiction competition - judging for the 2010 competition is well underway.
Barry Cunningham's top tips for writing children's fiction
Think about who your reader is and try imagining yourself at same age as your characters. What did you feel as a child? Can you remember what was important to you? What made you laugh or cry? It’s a great place to start.
It’s very important to plan, however loosely. Some writers use a storyboard to lay out their plots graphically. They have detailed descriptions of their setting, plots and cliffhangers, as well as character breakdowns – so they can be consistent. The beginning and ending of a novel are by far the most difficult parts to get right. Think carefully about where you want to begin your book – it doesn’t have to be at the start of the story! You might want to cut straight to the action, or even begin from a minor character or animal’s point of view! Don’t be afraid to experiment although the end of a book should always offer some "reward" to the young reader.
You need the reader to feel something for your characters. Sympathy and admiration for lead characters is sometimes not as important as writing a wonderful villain or anti-hero, but try and make both intriguing, not just plot devices for moving your story on. Good description is important, but almost always it’s better to express yourself in dialogue, or through your characters actions, than in lengthy explanations. Humour is also very important – children often laugh with fear or cry with happiness, and the use of both is effective.
I love the advice to feel it - ties in well with the time I spend visualising whole sections before I write them. 
I read this again today, before I sent off two submissions  - yes: printed chapters and a chat to the post office staff when HE used sellotape to seal the envelope. Two agencies - whose names I'd happily have tattooed under the image of m'mother (;)) - only accept postal submissions. After the widow's mite comes the long wait.
To pass the time, and encourage me to not bite my finger nails down to the elbows, I have my Valentine's-iversary present: my DVD of Garrow's Law Season 1. For some reason, probably writing related, I didn't see this. If anyone is going to give James McAvoy a run for his money it is Andrew Buchan. 
I read a recommendation for a new vampire TV programme but I forgot to write it down. :( Any viewing suggestions?


  1. I also agree with the "feel it" advice. I usually visualize each scene before I write it.`

  2. I would pay attention to the advice of the person who decided to publish a story about a boy with a jagged scar on his forehead, too!

    Thanks for the post!

  3. Thanks for the info! I definitely agree with The Golden Eagle. :)

  4. Great post. And good luck. Here's a tip on not biting your fingernails to nubs... paint them a godawful color your couldn't stand to see on your teeth. ;-)

  5. Hi Jennifer
    Feel it is a great thought. :)

    Hi GE
    If he says it should be so - I'm going to try to replicate it :D

    Hi Bethany
    A wise man. Even if he responsible for my daughter refusing to give other books a chance ;)

  6. Hi Christopher
    That is a plan - but how to keep the paint "moist" there's the rub :D

  7. Elaine,

    Thanks for the post. It is very important for us to put ourselves in a child's position so that the reactions are real.


  8. Great advice - I'm working on that planning component!

  9. Hi Michael
    Yes it is important to keep the children at the heart of the work.

    Hi Jemi
    I began a MG with a near non-existent plan the other day. The ideas turned up - the thing turned up start and end - I'm giving a lot of thought to what happened in the middle ;)

  10. Thank you for sharing these tips with us. I wish you lots of luck with your submissions

  11. Thanks Jamara
    My fingers are crossed - and life is already sliding into slow motion.

  12. Great advice. But I thought the real hero behind the Boy Who Lived was a little girl who insisted her father get the book published. : )

    Good luck with your submissions!

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  14. Fantastic tips! Feeling it is a good one - you've got to put yourself inside the MC's head and heart. Hope you have a good weekend!

  15. Hi Talli
    Barry says it like it is. Thanks for the weekend wishes; have a good a relaxing, or productive, time too. :D

  16. Thanks for the advice and to heck with Stephan, she needs to dump him and jump all over Damon....suit or not! Lol