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Australian author Jackie French talks to Kids News about how to write a book

Jackie French, as told to Donna Coutts, August 21, 2018 7:54AM Kids News

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Australian author Jackie French in her garden. media_cameraAustralian author Jackie French in her garden.

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Reading level: green

Jackie French is an award-winning Australian writer who writes fiction and nonfiction for kids and adults on history, gardening, chooks and much more. She has written 132 books. Her most famous is Diary of a Wombat.

She wrote her first book when she was six years old. Since then, she has learned a lot about writing, but she still has trouble spelling and could never face writing a whole book at once, so she just writes one scene at a time.

Kids News asked Jackie some questions on writing and reading.

Here’s what she told us.

How do I start writing a story? Where do ideas come from?

There is never one idea for a story. You need 1000 ideas for a story. Think of the things that interest you the most, whether it is hamburgers or soccer. The things that move* you.

You don’t have to start at the beginning. Just write a scene*. If you write a little bit and a little bit they add up and before you know it you have a book.

Start at the end first. When you write the end first you have a better idea who it is about, what is going to happen and where the story is going to go.

The rest of the story is much faster to write because you know where you’re going. The hardest bit of all is ending the book. If you do that first, everything is easier. I nearly always change the ending (I wrote earlier).

Writing the ending first is going to make you ask:

Where is the book set?

Who am I writing about?

Why am I writing about them?

What is interesting about them?

Where are they?

What do they want more than anything else?

Then you can decide whether they get what they want, or whether they get something different at the end of the story that they may not have even known they wanted.

What do I do if my teacher asks me to hurry up but I’m not ready to finish?

Be tactful*. Remember that teachers have many students. Be kind and smile and say “Look it’s going really well, but it’s just not going to finish in the time we have.”

Be honest, but be kind.

What if I think my story is no good? Do I keep going or do I start again?

There’s two ways of being not good.

Is it boring? If it’s boring, trash it. Go for a walk, have a piece of chocolate, clear your brain and get some new good ideas.

If it’s just not really working, still do the same. Go for a walk, have a piece of chocolate, think about it, think how can you make it more interesting. What is the most interesting thing that could happen next?

It depends what kind of bad is it. If it’s the writing, you can fix it. Cut out every boring word. Start looking at the interesting words, the really rich describing words. Cut out as many of the describing words as many as you can because too much beautiful description slows the story down. Your job is to tell the story and make it easy for the reader to read the story.

Does it matter that the spelling is bad? Do I correct it as I go or worry about it later?

It doesn’t matter if the spelling is bad. My first book was accepted by the publishers because the spelling was so bad the publishers thought it was funny.

Spelling doesn’t matter in terms of telling the story. Don’t worry. Spellcheck checks things very well.

If spelling is a problem, write your story and then put it through a spellchecker. Don’t correct it as you go. You need to be there in the story, like being a part of the story and you can’t do that if you’re worrying about the spelling.

What if I find writing difficult? Is there another way to get my story told?

If handwriting is difficult, I can tell you I only got really comfortable with putting things on the page when I got my first computer.

Use a voice recorder, just click on the microphone button on your device and speak very slowly and clearly.

Every one of us already knows how to tell a story really well. Every time you tell your friend a story, you tell it well. We already know how to tell a story but if you find it hard to start, record it first. Pretend it really happened and you are telling your best friend what happened. You will have to make a lot of changes to change it from sounding like you are telling your best friend, but you will have the story and the structure and it is so much easier to work on something you already have.

Should I write about what I like reading or what I know about?

Not necessarily either. Writing what you know about is good but this is where the word extrapolation* comes in. Write about what you know. You know your maths teacher, but turn them into a vampire. Extrapolate (extend). Take what you know about and take it further. Of course, if your maths teacher is already a vampire, you’ll need to think of something else.

You can write in the genre (style) you like reading, but never, ever write about what you read or what you see on TV. It is a second-hand idea.

Look around you and ask, ‘How can I change this?’

If I’m sitting in an audience, I look at people and think about who I think they are and (in my head) it starts getting wilder and wilder and funnier.

Write about what you know but change it and make it brighter and more fascinating.

Does it matter if all the detail isn’t right if it’s fiction?

If you don’t know about a period* in history then you shouldn’t write it as if it might be real. Set it in a vague period so it’s imaginary or set it in an alternative universe. Just don’t write about a specific time in history.

If I think my story is really good, what should I do now?

Wait another 10 years.

There are very few writers who actually published successful books before they were 20.

If you’re writing brilliant stories now, they are going to be even more brilliant by the time you leave school. The ideas and the stories are still there, they just get richer and deeper and more brilliant later.

Don’t get too ambitious* and just keep writing as much as you can.

When you’re really busy in high school, just write one scene a day. That’s what I do now.

I could never face writing a book. Just write a little bit. Think of a scene, think about it really clearly and write that.

When I’m reading it’s hard to keep going if I don’t like the book. Do I have to keep going or is it okay to stop and try something else?

It’s only paper, it’s not a crocodile that’s going to bite your head off if you don’t keep going.

But don’t cover it in gravy and feed it to the dog because you might want to read the book later.

If a book is boring, put it down and get another.

If you have to read it for school, ask your teacher, quietly and politely after class when no one else is there: ‘Look this book isn’t really the kind of thing I’m interested in.’

If they say no, you can’t change books, be honest about it if you think this book is really boring and badly written. Say what you think. If you have to write about it, write every insulting thing you think about it, why it is bad, why it is boring.

If it’s a book for girls about girls on horses and you’re not a girl and not a horse, then this is going to be very boring for you. Just tell the truth about a book and why it’s just not for you.

You can read A Waltz for Matilda by Jackie French free by becoming a Kids News Book Club member. See the details HERE

Read more about Kids News Book Club HERE


move: make you feel some sort of emotion, such as happiness or sadness or excitement

scene: one small event or place in a story

tactful: being careful with the person’s feelings

period: time

extrapolation: extend past what��s already there

ambitious: have big ideas and hopes


Extra Reading in book club