Three quotations on FREEDOM

British author, Virginia Woolf:

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

American President, Abraham Lincoln:

“The sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty.”

British author, George Orwell:

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Three quotations from the great storyteller ALFRED HITCHCOCK

“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.”

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”

“Seeing a murder on television can help work off one’s antagonisms. And if you haven’t any antagonisms, the commercials will give you some.”

A PICTURE BOOK WRITER’S CHECKLIST

To mark the launch of HOW TO BE COOLER THAN COOL I had an Instagram Live conversation with my longtime editor at Walker Books, Maria Tunney. Instagrammers can see our chat here.

Maria asked me to come up with ‘five key picture book ingredients’. That felt like an interesting challenge and what I had to say seems to have set others thinking too.

There are no definitive ingredients for picture books, or any other kind of creative writing. But over the years I’ve developed a list of 9 questions which I ask myself, to test the readiness of a developing picture book text. Sometimes a new story is strong in a number of areas, but not all. Checking through these 9 pointers can identify what needs to be worked on. And it can spark the ideas that a story needs, to evolve…

  1. Is there a character with whom young children will fall in love – preferably after one sentence?
  1. Is there something about the story that will ‘hook’ readers in from the start?
  1. Does the story have a page-turning quality as it progresses?
  1. What does the main character want?
  1. Is there an emotional journey, as well as a story journey? (It doesn’t matter what the emotion is.)
  1. Is there visual variety for an illustrator?
  1. Does everything happen across a short time-span? (Picture book stories very often describe a single day, or even less.)  
  1. Is the story truly young…truly for and about children under 6?
  1. Is there some kind of ending uplift that will delight young readers? (There are many kinds: twists, jokes, echoes, questions, satisfying resolutions. Best of all, perhaps, none of those…but something no one’s come up with before!)

Four quotations for DIFFICULT WRITING DAYS

British author, Alan Garner: “I look on the ‘down’ as an imposed period of hibernation that allows the unconscious and creative mind to overcome the rational intellect.”

German artist, Joseph Beuys: “Every creative person must go through a season in hell in order to reach a deeper level of perception.”

American children’s author, Michael Cadnum: “…writers tend to embrace their own suffering with too much enthusiasm. Writing is work, but not the worst work in the world.”

Brazilian poet, Carlos Drumond de Andrade: “pois a hora mais bela/surge da mais triste.” (“Because the most beautiful moment/grews out of the saddest hour.”)

TIPS ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

A student dropped me a line asking for my top tips on writing for children.

 

 

I had a fifteen minute train journey to write a message back. And these are the bits of advice that came off the top of my head. Hoping they may be useful to others….

Top priority…be very clear what age children you are writing for. 2-4’s? 4-6’s? 6-8’s? 8-11’s? They are all very different and read different sorts of stories.

Come up with a character that children of the age you are writing for will identify with or…better still…fall head over heals in love with.

Open with a hook that will get them on board.

Make it a ‘ page-turning’ story to keep them involved.

Put in some humour.

Also some emotion.

Reach some sort of satisfying resolution…a surprise…an uplift…a piece of magic.

 

LONG LIVE HARBINGER SCHOOL LIBRARY

A BBC investigation, last year, came up with this shocking statistic: 343 British public libraries closed between 2010 and 2016. So what a delight to be invited to open a new library last week, at Harbinger Primary, on the Isle of Dogs.

In the ship-launching tradition of that corner of east London, it felt as if we should be launching the new library by smashing a bottle of champagne on the door. But the Head Teacher wouldn’t let me.

So I did my best to launch the new space by reading a poem written for the library.

All the children and staff at the school joined in by counting 3…2…1!

Then the ribbon was cut…

LONG LIVE HARBINGER SCHOOL LIBRARY AND ALL WHO READ IN HER!

Here’s the poem I read:

 

A BLESSING FOR A LIBRARY

 

Let this be a place where reading flows.

Let this be a place where imagination grows.

 

Let this be a place where facts are discovered –

a calm place, in busy times, where clear thoughts are recovered.

 

Let this be a place that is safe and warm.

Let this be a place where fresh dreams are born.

 

Let there be good stories here that make your heart go faster,

poems, riddles and comedies to make you burst with laughter.

 

Let this be a place of cliffhangers and mysteries.

Let this be a place for sciences and histories.

 

Let this be a place where you come to feel at home.

Let this be a place where learning seeds are sown.

 

Let this be a special place for the head and the heart.

Let this be a place from which journeys start.

 

Sean Taylor, May 2017

 

 

I JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT TO WRITE

This from a 15 year-old last week..

Dear sean,

Hi wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed reading your book “A waste of good paper” I would like to ask you for some tips on writing a book i like actually i love reading book and i finished reading your book the same day i got it from the library i am happy to add it to my collection of favourite books. I want to write a book about my life so far i am only 15 but i want to achieve something and i have started many times its just when it comes to going on i just become blank i forget everything or i just don’t know what to write. If you don’t mind telling me some of your secrets please do share. Thanks Nikolas [Nik the gamer]

My message back to him,
Hello Nik the gamer.
Welcome to the club.
If you get as far as becoming blank, forgetting everything and not knowing what to write, that sounds very hopeful.
People who are not writers don’t get that far!
If you keep reading other writers (of all kinds, from all over) and keep taking yourself to that place of not knowing what to write…and keep doing both these things some more…you will find out what it is you’ve got to write.
With all good wishes for your adventures with words,
Sean T

THE TOP 10 REASONS WHY I READ TO MY CHILDREN

As well as being the author of some books for children, I am the father of two boys under 10. Like many (most?) parents, I can feel regrets about the things I’ve not managed to do together with my boys. We’ve never built a tree-house. I haven’t taken a half-day off to sit down with them and make that model pirate ship they were once given. The campervan trip to Ireland hasn’t happened yet… But I have read to them as much as I possibly can. And there are no regrets about that.

Sean, Joey, Rafa & Robomop Dec 2012

These are ten reasons why:

1. THE SHARING

In modern times, many parents have lost touch with what you could call ‘traditional children’s culture’. I’m thinking of the stories, games, songs, rhymes, traditions and rituals which would once have been passed from one generation to the next. Reading to your children can go some way to making up for that. If there were books you loved as a child, it’s easy to pass them on. I’ve had a fantastic time revisiting (by reading aloud) old favourites of mine like John Burningham’sHumbert, Winnie the Pooh, Moominsummer Madness, James and the Giant Peach and Treasure Island. And the fantastic-ness is doubled when it’s shared with a child.

2. LANGUAGE

Books offer language that goes beyond the range of everyday talk. And stories offer delights that ordinary conversations rarely do. So reading aloud to a child is a great way to help them become confident language users. This has been particularly important in my family. I’m British, but my wife is Brazilian. Our boys grew up in São Paulo. Their ‘mother tongue’ is (quite literally) Portuguese. I know the fact that they are both good English speakers today, owes a lot to all the books in English we’ve enjoyed together.

3.THE BOOKS THEMSELVES

As you can see from my post on Maurice Sendak (somewhere below) I think picture books are one of the great art forms to come out of the 20th century. (Up there with the three-and-a-half-minute rhythm and blues song!) You get characters that children love, page-turning stories, inventive, skilfully-crafted illustrations, flights of imagination, colour, humour, emotion and – as if all that wasn’t enough – endings which uplift, provoke, surprise, or do all three. The wealth of picture books available is a treasure chest to share with any child. And it’s not just picture books that are special. Middle grade fiction is very much abuzz. So I’m not planning to stop reading to my boys any time soon!

4. LITERACY

Most children find learning to read and write a tough business. But if they’re being read good books they’ll be more motivated to succeed at it. They’ll be more at home in the landscape of words on pages. And you can give them bits of practice too – by pausing the flow of a story, and getting them to read out words. Our six-year-old doesn’t have much patience for practising his phonics and key-words. But if I give him reading challenges from a book that I’m reading aloud to him, he’s noticeably more motivated, calm and persistent.

5. QUESTIONS

Children’s questions are wonderful (wonder-filled) things. They are a marks of curiosity and the desire to learn. They contain hope. So I always listen carefully to them and give the best answers I can. (Even if the conversation goes: “Does everyone in the world die?” “Yes, it’s sad but everyone does.” “What about mermaids?”) Reading-time with children is a great space for these questions to come out – whether they’re old questions waiting to be asked, or new ones inspired by what’s being read. When you’re reading together, there’s time and space for reflection. Your child can ask you things. Or you can ask them.

6. COMPANIONSHIP

Sometimes children need you to go with them on the journey into a book. Our 9-year-old likes to read a lot of things on his own, these days. But there are books he’d like to have read to him. This may be because the story looks challenging to him, in some way. Or it may be that it’s a book from a different era that he’d like an adult to help ‘interpret’. One way or another, if you offer yourself to a child as a book companion, you’ll broaden their reading horizons.

7. LAUGHTER

There is so much comedy in writing for children. And laughter (like most things) is best enjoyable when it’s shared. I did actually fall off the bed from laughing so much…when reading our oldest son Roald Dahl’s, The Twits.

8. CONVERSATION

It’s not just questions. There is other talk sparked during and after the reading. Good stories stay with us. My boys and I chat about books we have read days, weeks, months or years after we have finished them.

9. DELIGHT!

You can choose what direction to travel (towards adventure, humour, poetry, magic, or more besides.) You take a break from the busyness of things. You can do it every day, home or away. You find somewhere comfortable to sit yourselves down. There is calm. You journey into the imagination, together with a child. It’s a delight.

10. SLEEPING…

All around us as night draws in, parents start up the quiet rhythms of telling stories to children. It goes on right round the world. And there’s nothing new in the knowledge that a story is the best way to end the day’s excitement and settle down for sleep. It’s been going on for tens of thousands of years. They are bridges that lead from the real world into the world of our dreams. (And if the adult readers sometimes fall asleep too…well…it happens!)

These are ten reasons why I have spent hours and hours reading to my sons. On reflection, I suppose those hours have really been our tree house, our pirate ship and our campervan adventure across the sea…

 

 

I’D RATHER JUST BE ME

Many thanks to the special staff at Brent Libraries who invited me for an author visit yesterday.

Thanks also to the Year Two children (St Paul’s Class from Our Lady of Lourdes Primary, and Rose Class from Harlesden Primary) who answered riddles, listened to stories, filled the libraries with laughter and ideas, and borrowed a lot of books…

To celebrate the publication of DON’T CALL ME CHOOCHIE POOH! today, here is the poem St Paul’s Class invented:

 

THE SILLY NAMES POEM

Don’t call me BIBBY BOBBY GOO GOO GUMBO!

Don’t call me MY LITTLE OOFAM BOOFAM!

Don’t call me ISSUM WISSUM SWEETIE TOES!

All those sound like names for babies.

 

Don’t call me TEENSY WEENSY CHICKABIDDY!

Don’t call me OOPSIE BOOPSIE HONEY BUNNY!

Don’t call me YICKLE PICKLE BOO BOO!

I’D RATHER JUST BE ME!

 

by Year Two St Paul’s at Our Lady of Lourdes R.C. Primary, working with Sean Taylor, Wembley Library, 3rd February 2016.

 

MUSIC, UNICORNS, PIRATES AND ROCKETS

Follow this link for a rhythm-and-fun-filled reading of my recent picture book, IT’S A GROOVY WORLD, ALFREDO! : http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/cbeebies/episode/b06z8xqr/cbeebies-bedtime-stories-520-pete-dalton-its-a-groovy-world-alfredo .

 

Groovy cover

 

The book is dedicated to the big-hearted, political, performing poet, Adrian Mitchell.

My dedication reads:

In memory of Adrian Mitchell, 1932 – 2008.

He pulled music, unicorns, pirates and rockets

from his magical coat of umpteen pockets…

Adrian Mitchell helped me along my writing path. His help came from conversations I had with him (sadly, no longer possible.) And it came from examples he set in his own writing (very much still available and as fierce, funny and inspiring as ever…)

He is a poet remembered for the big-heartedness, the fierceness and the performing I have mentioned above. But I chose to dedicate IT’S A GROOVY WORLD, ALFREDO! to him because it’s a musical and a playful story.

Adrian Mitchell was the most musical of poets. He taught me that the rhythms and lyrics of songs can make words dance, even when there’s no actual music.

And he was playful, even when writing about things he took very seriously. Here’s an example which comes to mind – his words on the subject of bringing more poetry into school classrooms: “Make poetry something to look forward to. If you can’t get a poet, why not bring something else into the classroom? There aren’t enough animals in school – bring in a dog! Or puppies. Once the children have stopped playing with them they’ll want to write poems. Maybe the best thing to bring in would be a giraffe…”

 

TO END THE YEAR

A thought from the American writer, Maya Angelou (1928-2014) : “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

SAVE LIBRARIES

People in Lambeth, south London, are battling to save libraries from being closed, or turned into gyms with unstaffed book-corners. And they are not the only ones. So here are thirteen thank yous for librarians:

THIRTEEN THANK YOUS FOR LIBRARIANS

Thank you for the discovery that’s possible every time you unlock the library door.

Thank you for the learning and the concentration that goes on around you.

Thanks for the reading you do, so you can help others choose the reading they want.

Thank you for encouraging young people to use libraries.

Thank you for persisting in times when public attention is pulled so many ways.

Thank you for keeping at it, though libraries are always among the first targets for cuts.

Thanks for the smell of your libraries…the smell of books that are alive.

Thanks for the noise in your libraries. They were never silent. And a library at work is one of the loveliest human sounds.

Thank you for the excitement of arriving at the library and seeing the possibilities spread out, waiting.

Thank you for the spells of daydreaming you enable.

Thank you for living with the stereotype of the bespectacled, softly-spoken librarian, even though you know the truth: that a good librarian is a kind of magician!

Thank you for putting the books back at the end of the day.

Thank you for the good things your work creates which cannot be measured, or proven by statistics, or even put into words.