Every year I am lucky to chair children’s author events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The festival is a bonanza of writing, illustrating and ideas. It has an outstanding children’s programme which culminates in a school gala day in a final burst of summer bookish glory.
What I enjoy most is the chat between children (as young as two or three years), older young people and authors and illustrators. Questions from children and young people are rich in their diversity: from ‘how do you get your ideas’ (everywhere) and ‘what do you earn’ (not much) to questions about how to develop their own writing and story-making.
Authors are generous in their responses, honed by masses of engagement with their readers. They don’t talk about the glitz of launching a book but speak about the graft that goes into creating fiction and the need to find the space for inspiration. They talk about writerly curiosity, the importance of research and the hard work of editing. They consistently give these pieces of advice:
1. Writers need to read lots (always) and widely (good authors are good readers).
2. Always carry a notebook and listen well (buses are excellent!)
3. Practice writing every day.
Finally, there is inspiration for children and young people who are struggling at school or in their reading. Some authors talk of having a hard time at school and writing and reading happening in spite of challenges. Some are dyslexic or were slow readers. Some had few books at home and had to go and seek them out at school or in the local library. But all were captured by stories and found a way of staying hooked by writing themselves.