Writing Teen Novels with Kaz Delaney

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of attending an author event with the delightful Kaz Delaney at Wangi Library. Kaz was there to talk about writing for teens and young adults. It was a nice small gathering, just under 20, people who were readers, writers, and book lovers alike. I have seen Kaz speak at multiple events and it is always a pleasure to see to her, as always she was delightful, larger than life and very friendly.

Kaz told us all about how she grew up in and around Newcastle, a Novacastrian born and bred. She also regaled us with stories about growing up and some of the adventures she had. One of my favourite things about author talks is hearing about how they came to be an author. There are always people wanting to know how to get published, but those stories aren’t the same as hearing how an author got published in my opinion. The personal journey of each author is different and fascinating and Kaz’s was no different. One of the things that stayed with me was that she said she had always planned on sending something in but life got in the way. It is reassuring to hear that life pushes its way into the plans of everybody and it isn’t something to feel bad about, especially when it can’t be helped.

With her 20th year of publishing this year Kaz has 70 books under her belt writing across the board, for teenagers and children alike. Her first big lesson learnt was to trust the editor who had critiqued her first submitted story and while she admits her entry into the writing world was a fairly easy entrée, it did not mean it wasn’t hard work and she acknowledges she was very fortunate. But she has also had her share of rejection, and another interesting lesson she gave us was that in her opinion you can’t really call yourself an author until you’ve been rejected. But you must also see the rejection for what it is, nothing against you personally but rather a critique on the work, separate yourself from it and don’t let it get you down.

Kaz spoke about how it is tough to be author, much harder than it was 20 years ago but noted there are more opportunities for writers these days. What was interesting was Kaz’s take on it. She understands that it gives people more chances but it has the possibility of harming the industry. This I completely understand, with the self publishing world taking off, more people can be published but there is a risk that the quality is not at the same standard as the traditional publishing route is known for, reducing the quality of the work that is being released. As Kaz mentioned, there is a lot of work that gets put out there that was rejected for a reason, and with people anxious to get their work out they don’t always do the extra work to make it right, people need to do themselves the best favour they can when it comes to getting their work out there.

Just before she finished up Kaz gave us some great advice on teen writing. She gave us ten excellent tips in making sure the work is authentic, and of good quality, including a few great insights we should remember. I would love to look at these points in more detail but I won’t do it here, but her top ten list is some excellent advice in how to make your young adult novel, any story really, work for you.

  1. See the world through the eyes of a character. Continually remind yourself who is telling the story.
  2. Don’t get distracted by sparkly things, that is don’t be distracted by a great new idea if it doesn’t fit within your story.
  3. Decisions made by characters must make emotional sense, most teen decisions won’t make logical sense but they must make emotional sense.
  4. Popular culture references can ground or not ground a story so you should be careful, and be wary of copyright issues.
  5. Swearing/not swearing, sex, drugs etc cannot be ignored. You can’t write for teens without tipping your hat to it.
  6. Pacing the novel is important.
  7. There is always hope. You don’t need to end with happily ever after but you always need hope.
  8. Know your genre. Read other books in your genre and notice themes, style etc to guide you.
  9. Love your audience. It’s hard to write in and hard to get published if you don’t like your audience. If you don’t like children and teens don’t write for them.
  10. Don’t limit yourself to writing for young adult.

If you ever get to see Kaz or any author at an event it is never a wasted moment. You can learn so much about writing and books, even if you are not interested in creating yourself it is always wonderful hearing from your favourite author and it lets them know they’re appreciated as well. It is truly a great time and yesterday was another one of those great events I was glad to have attended.


Newcastle Writers Festival 2014: Saturday

nwflogoReading Ryan O’Neill’s post last night about his Newcastle Writers experience reminded me I haven’t done my own, then I realised it was no longer a couple of days ago it was an entire week! Where does the time go? So I have finally found some time to tell you all about my awesome time at the Newcastle Writers Festival.

After the enjoyable and amazing time at the opening night on Friday, I was up early and off to Newcastle City Hall for day one of the festival. My first session, ‘From Little Things: Writing for Children‘, was excellent. On the panel was Kaz Delaney (aka Kerri Lane), Wendy Harmer, and Jesse Blackadder with Linsay Knight moderating. The mood in the room was wonderful, there was laughter and joking, each of the panellists played off each other and watching them joke and interact was as enjoyable for them as it was the entire audience.

Stories on writing were discussed and Kaz Delaney told us that she felt she was born to write and told us about her vast collection of books for children. With 69 books under her belt Kaz was first published at 9 with what she called a blatant rip off of the poem “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth. She also mentioned that some people have passions –  animals, the planet etc and her passion is children. I thought that was wonderful. Being passionate about writing is one thing but when you couple that with being passionate about children as well I really think it would help your work.

Wendy discussed her creation and development of her Pearly series. Pearly is a fairy that lives on a fountain in a park and as a big fairy fan,  Wendy said the idea for Pearly came very easily. She also said she wanted to create a fairy that didn’t look like other fairies, those that seem to look like Paris Hilton with wings; she wanted a fairy with daring do.

What I loved about Wendy was the reason she chose to set her Pearly series in a park. She said that most children don’t have gardens, instead they go to the park, Wendy herself took her daughter to the park. Because of this they cannot enjoy the magic of having a fairy at the bottom of their garden so by having Pearly live in the park it showed children that even if they didn’t have a garden they could still enjoy the magic of fairies.

Jesse Blackadder, an author who I had not previously heard of, is someone who bases her stories of real things that happen, she takes them and brings the story to life. Listening to Jesse talk was enjoyable, she was funny and played on the vast success of her fellow panellists and joked about her far fewer books, and amongst the strong presence and humour of the others Jesse held her own quite well.

She told us about her new book Stay, a story about a fibreglass Guide dog statue that had been kidnapped from Hobart and taken to Antarctica. She discussed the true story it was based upon as well as the issues she had trying to make an inanimate object tell its own story. Jesse also told us when telling stories about real events in real places it was important to her to go to the places themselves, and so having been to Antarctica, Dubai and numerous other places she was able to bring the story to life.

The entire session was excellent and one filled with learning, insight and a lot of laughter. All the panellists gave us a reading from their book, and as much as I loved them all I must say Wendy’s was the most animated. Naturally by the end of the session I was eager to read all of their books which resulted in the buying and signing of books from each author.

Linsey Knight, Kaz Delaney, Wendy Harmer, Jesse Blackadder

Linsey Knight, Kaz Delaney, Wendy Harmer, & Jesse Blackadder

The next session I attended was ‘Kate Forsyth in Conversation‘, a wonderful hour where Magdalena Ball discussed with Kate her creative journey as well as retelling fairy tales, and writing best selling works based on fables and fairy tales. So many wonderful lessons were learnt in this session, so many excellent quotes about writing, about fairytales and about creating I could hardly write fast enough to capture and remember it all.

Kate read to us from her novel Wild Girl, gave us insights in her research and her ideas, and even gave us a sneak peek into her new story that she was starting once the festival was over. For Kate immersing herself in the research was important, knowing about every detail about her characters was important, whether it was what they ate, believed, or how they peed. She also explained her four stages of writing, how she developed and planned her ideas, and the influences writing one novel can have on another.

Kate told us that if you have the compulsion to form life experiences into words than nothing should stop you, but she also said you cannot give someone the gift of writing, you may be able to teach it, but it is not the same. This was something I heard later in the weekend as well, and certainly something I hadn’t considered before.

Listening to Kate tell stories about how she started as a writer, how she writes and the work she puts into her books was inspiring, I have seen her a few times now over the years and every time she manages to amaze me more. Once again, more books were bought and signed.

Magdalena Ball & Kate Forsyth

Magdalena Ball & Kate Forsyth

My last session was ‘Once Upon a Time: Exploring myths, fables, and fairy tales‘, again with Kate Forsyth but with John Hughes as well and Jenny Blackford moderating. Discussing the idea of reinventing fables and fairy tales into new inventive stories is something I adore doing and love reading about. John and Kate immediately addressed the incorrect notion that fables and fairytales are just for children, not to mention how and why these stories have lasted for millennia.

Kate said she believes that a story is retold if it is a story of longing and need and some kind of dilemma, and the stories that are retold and retold and shape shift really touch a core in the listeners. As she beautifully put it, she feels like a relay runner carrying on this beacon of stories, behind her is centuries of storytelling. I thought that was a wonderful way to describe it.

This was another session of excellent quotes about us as people, about our need for stories and love of them. From the cleaning up of darker tales in the Victorian era, and the Grimm’s changing the stories as well it was clear that these stories have been evolving for awhile. Naturally Disney poked its nose into this discussion about it taming down of fairytales further, but Kate wisely pointed out that Disney probably is the true source of the fairy tale revival, and that they did a wonderful service by keeping stories alive that may have been forgotten. John also pointed out that you cannot say these stories can only be used for high literature purposes and no other. It is really up to the person telling the stories how they want to do it. As Kate said, with each retelling of a tale the teller brings their own concerns to it. By the end of the session I has learned so much and gotten so many new ideas and motivation to write my own stories. After the session was over, yes, many books were bought and signed once more.

Kate Forsyth, Jenny Blackford, & John Hughes

Kate Forsyth, Jenny Blackford, & John Hughes

At the end of a very long first day I was on a buzz of knowledge and awe and just general happiness to be there. This is what I love, learning about how people write, where their inspiration comes from, but also the chance to broaden your own mind and gain new perspective and welcome new ideas and challenges. I truly adore this (and other) writing festivals. Not only do you learn so much but you also get exposed to great authors you may never have noticed or even considered before.

Newcastle Writer’s Festival 2014

The Newcastle Writer’s Festival released their 2014 program this weekend and I know a fair few people who were there waiting and already have read through the various sessions and work out which ones they can attend and where the overlapping conflicts and tough decisions lie. I know with my own choices I had to choose between a few things, had to decide what was more valuable and what sparked my interest. As a first round I have a list of seven across two days including some excellent sessions with Kate Forsyth, Ryan O’Neill, Kaz Delaney, Wendy Harmer, and a range of others.

For those interested in going, the Newcastle Writers Festival is in its second year and is held in April with this year’s dates the 4th, 5th, and 6th. Started by Rosemarie Milsom with the support and backing of many great people the festival could be put on. Last year there were more than 70 writers participating with 38 sessions running. This year is just as big if not bigger and if last year is anything to go by it will be a resounding success and fun weekend in Newcastle. All the details can be found on their website, along with the program of sessions and information, times and locations. Just check though because while most are free, there are a few that require you to purchase a ticket, but it isn’t all that expensive.

I went to the inaugural Writers Festival last year with Jess over at The Never Ending Bookshelf, and for a first year event is was pretty spectacular. Certainly cannot believe it has been a whole year already. This year the events are mainly situated in the City Hall as far as I can see which is a lot different than last year. One of my favourite sessions last year was actually hosted in one of the pubs I used to go to after Uni with a few friends so that was rather interesting. Of course it was in the back room away from the general public, but it was still very cool. Now we’re in the City Hall so getting to see all their various rooms should be interesting.

The festival is across three days, and the sessions cover everything; there are sessions about crime writing, poetry, writing for children, writing fairy tales, romance, and just plain old writing. There are also sessions and talks by specific authors for you to attend. To learn more about the festival you can read their About page, or just have a look through their website, check out the programs that will be running, see the authors that are visiting and have a general squiz at how amazing it is going to be. You can also follow the latest news and information on Facebook and Twitter. It is only the end of February but I can already see that April is definitely going to be getting off to a very good start.


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