Abby was one of the first Girl Hero Project competition winners. As part of her prize, she asked Susannah some questions about writing. We thought the questions – and Susannah’s answers – were so interesting we would share them with everyone! Thanks Abby!
Q: Is it better to write in past or present tense in a fictional story? And in which way would you write it, a mix of both? Eg: “Hello,” greeted Lizzie. OR “ Hello,” greets Lizzie
I write mainly in the past tense. Writing in the present can give a story a real sense of being in the here and now but it can also make it difficult to narrate the story, when the writer wants to tell things that have happened as well as happening.
Q: What is the best way to get a story started/How do you get your ideas for a new book?
That’s a great question and one with lots of answers! For the EJ Girl Hero stories I often get ideas from reading other books or things that are happening in the world: I hear or see things and begin to think ‘I wonder if that’s something for EJ?’. For example, the idea for Pyramid Puzzle came from my reading an article that a pyramid had been found buried deep in the sands of the Egyptian desert and the idea for Secret Safari came from reading about the threat to the survival of the black-nosed rhino.
Once I have the beginning of an idea, I love to Google! I love to see what comes up and ideas begin to form and jump around and then I see if I can join all those ideas up!
Q: What genre is the most popular for books?
That’s a difficult question because different people like different things and that’s why there are so many genres, different types of stories for people to read.
Q: How do you find words that rhyme and makes sense for poems?
Poetry is really challenging isn’t it? For me it is all about conveying an absolute meaning of something, really nailing it with the just right words. Poems don’t always have to rhyme but, if they do, the rhyme shouldn’t be forced, with words just in there because they rhyme. Here’s one I have made up for you!
Writing poems can be a bind:
rhyming words are hard to find
But think instead on what you are trying to say
and perhaps you will find another way!
Q: Is it better to have a long-drawn-out conclusion, or a short, immediate
That depends on you! Do you want to build up slowly to an ending, almost teasing the reader or hit the reader right between the eyes with a sudden surprise? Whichever way you choose it must be satisfying – ‘long-drawn-out’ mustn’t be boring!
Q: What are the tips and tricks to become a better writer?
The absolute best tip to becoming a better writer is to read more!
Q: What path should you follow as a kid to become a great writer when
you are grown up?
As above, you need to read as much as you can and then you need to write as much as you can. Share your writing, submit it to your school or local library magazines or online (like the Girl Hero Project competition). Write and write and share it, invite people to tell you what they think – constructive feedback makes good stories better.
Q: Is it better to edit your own stories or get an editor to edit it?
You should always check your own work and make sure it is the best it can be but it is also invaluable to have someone else give you their thoughts on what they liked and perhaps what wasn’t as strong for them. If you are writing for a publisher, there is always at least one editor to help you re-write and improve your story.
Q: What are common traps for aspiring authors?
To not seek positive feedback nor accept constructive criticism.
To stick to one writing style – don’t be afraid to experiment and try out new things! Write stories, plays, poems, non-fiction, arguments, riddles!
To give up and stop writing – never give up!.
Q: Is it better to be original or deliver stories that you know readers want?
I’m not sure I understand your question completely but every story should be original because a different person writes it – or it should be, you shouldn’t copy other people’s ideas but trust in your own! Knowing what people want is a little like having a magic wand –
I think it’s best to write about something you believe in and are passionate about and then work hard to make your writing make that passion contagious.
Q: Is writing a stand-alone story, more impacting than writing a series?
They do different things. A single stand-alone story is complete in itself, everything is tied up and dealt with within the one story. A series allows you to take your hero and the plotlines over a number of books, developing it, growing it over time. I love to write series and to lay little hints of future books in earlier books.
Q: How do you select names for your characters?
In lots of different ways. Sometimes they are just names that I think will suit the character but other times they are working a bit harder.
For example in EJ Girl Hero, I wanted all Emma’s family and friends to have palindromes (words that are spelled the same forwards and backwards) because I wanted that to be a symbol of their reliability to Emma, that they would never change. Similarly, all the evildoers in the SHADOW agency have names that somehow relate to darkness or black and if the reader picks that up, it can be a clue to how that character might behave. So we have Madame Ombre (French for shadow) or Laila and Adriana (both girls’ names for darkness) – see if you can find the others!
Q: How long on average, does it take to write a book?
Again, there’s no one answer, sorry! That said, with EJ, it’s a bit like the time it takes to have a baby (and a book is a little bit like that, creating something new) so it takes about a year from the very first idea, through the pondering of that idea, to the brainstorming, planning, writing, editing and finally printing!
Q: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
For the mission part of the EJ stories I spend a lot of time researching because I want the missions to be credible. They don’t have to be true but they do have to be possible with a bit of imagination. So I start with an idea and Google a lot, finding out more and more: sometimes the research tells me the idea is a dead end or not enough for a whole story but, more often, the research leads me deeper and deeper into the idea and it gets richer with all the new detail. It’s very exciting. How long it takes depends how deep I follow all the leads before deciding it’s time to start the story.
Q: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Yes, I love to hear what people think of my writing and while ‘bad’ reviews can disappointing, they can also be helpful in improving my writing.
Q: What is your writing process like?
It changes and depends on where you are in the writing process. For me, there are different stages: brainstorming, planning, drafting, editing. Whatever stage you are in you need to stick at it and give it a really good period of time without interruptions. Particularly with the writing, it really does work best when you can lose yourself into the world of the story, follow plotlines and see where they take you and you can’t do that if you have your phone on!
Q: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both! Sometimes it is just hard slog working away at a story where nothing seems to be fitting into place: plots get confused, characters turn out to be not as interesting on the page as they were in my head (!) and the words don’t seem to come out right! Yet there can be other times where ideas and words seem to just flow out of you and it’s hard to keep up on the keyboard! The trick, however, is that you have to write during both times – and the ones in between – particularly if you have a deadline to meet. You can’t wait for inspiration to strike, you have to make it happen.
Q: What does literary success look to you?
Writing success for me means readers enjoying my stories.
Q: How many hours a day should you write?
There’s no right answer for that but you should try to write every day. You might have school or work or looking after a family but it’s important to make a commitment I think to write something every day.
Q: Do you think someone could be an author if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Yes but it would perhaps be a different kind of writing, perhaps non-fiction, where they right to explain and untangle facts rather than feelings!
Q: What makes a good writer?
To me, it is clarity and connection and, ideally both at the same time. If words can help people understand things or themselves better and inspire them to think and act differently, they really can change the world.