Little Star Writers become Publishers For The Day with Usborne!

Written by Little Star Writer Millie, age 10

On Monday 24th October, myself, Charlotte and Lucy went to Usborne publishing house for the day, as we won a writing competition with Little Star Writing.

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It was an amazing day. We met a lovely fiction editor who was called Becky and she showed us the different departments within Usborne, followed by a tour of our amazing office for the day!

 

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At 11am we did an activity called ‘choosing a cover’. We looked at a variety of new novels and different ideas, and after much discussion we came to a conclusion on each one. During this activity we had a few big publishers sitting in with us. Occasionally they joined in and defended our ideas and asked us questions on our explanations and thoughts. They were really inspiring people and I found them extremely interesting.


 

The next activity was ‘writing a cover blurb’. We were handed proof copies of new novels and we had to write a blurb for them. We created a blurb for them by quoting lines, making notes and trying to make our few sentences as gripping as possible. I can’t believe they could be used in these amazing new novels and we could have the chance of having our writing on the back of a book!

 

The next activity was ‘proof reading’. We learnt the ways to represent spelling errors, punctuation errors , and grammatical errors. We also learnt the symbols for how to mark new author’s work and how to send it off.


 

Next we had a delicious lunch where we met Rebecca Hill, Will Steele and Stevie Hopwood. We asked a lot of questions like, ‘do you have a routine of how you select books each month? Like if you had two great thrillers in the same month but you needed one thriller and one adventure story would you turn one down or take on both?’ We had a brilliant time and we got to know the publishers and designers and they got to know us.  

 

We then saw an amazing copy cover of a new book that the designers were working on. They showed us the stages of design and the different copies they had tried, and then the final copy, which was a foil design.

 

The next and final activity was to write our own ‘press release’. We had a huge discussion on how to send off a press release and what you should put in it / what information you should give away / what information should be secret from everyone until the book is released. Then we pitched the book in a sentence and finally we had to say goodbye to Usborne…

 

Note from Mel: We'd like to say a HUGE thank you to Usborne for allowing us to take over their office for the day. Millie, Charlotte and Lucy said it exceeded all of their expectations, and I heard the words, 'I'm definitely going to work in publishing when I'm older' at least three or four times. Everyone was so friendly and really made the girls feel at home. At the end of lunch they even chose to go back upstairs to 'work' when given the chance to chat for longer over cupcakes and muffins! What an incredible opportunity for them - thank you Usborne!

Writing Realistic Dialogue (or Not) by Jo Cotterill

I love dialogue. I love writing dialogue more than any other part of writing. Dialogue makes characters come alive; gives them identity. I quite like narrative and action, and I thoroughly DISLIKE writing description (my editors are always begging me: ‘But what does her bedroom LOOK like? Does this character have long hair?’ and I try not to reply, ‘It’s a BEDROOM, what more matters? And I have no idea what her hair is like!’) but I loooove dialogue.

I think my passion for speech comes partly from my previous career as an actor. Scripts are ALL dialogue (apart from the stage directions), so you don’t get bogged down in anything other than what people are actually saying to each other. But writing dialogue can be hard too. How many times have you read a book in which you’ve thought, ‘That doesn’t sound right. No one would really say that’? Dialogue in books has to SOUND realistic without actually BEING realistic. Think about it. How many boring conversations have you had where you spend about ten minutes not quite finishing your sentences? Like…

‘So, there was something we needed to…oh, while I think of it, did you get my text about tomorrow? Because you can ignore it now, cos we’re not doing that. I don’t know what we are doing, but…hang on, do you still have that pass for the park? Oh – no, it’s supposed to rain I think, maybe I’d better check…’

See? Dull, dull, dull. And yet, so very true. We talk a LOT in our lives, and about ninety-five percent* of it is really boring. If you filled a book with that, no one would read it.

So in a book, you have to get your characters telling each other important information: how they feel, what the plan is, why they’re suddenly locked in a cupboard – without making it sound like they’re some kind of story-robot, churning out stuff for the reader to know.

How can you do this? Practice. If you’re having trouble making your characters sound realistic, try reading the dialogue out loud. I’ve done this with my own books. Once you’re actually SAYING the words, you realise they feel odd that way, and you get a better idea of the way someone WOULD say it. Try writing the scene as a script, and get a friend or two to read the other character(s). Words in your head sound completely different when someone ELSE is saying them in real life.

Don’t let your characters get to the point too quickly, either. There’s a temptation to have a character walk into a scene and say, ‘Hi everyone. I’m really sad today because my cat just died.’ But people don’t just blurt stuff out like that. Sometimes there’s a whole other conversation that has to take place before the REAL point is made. You can use this in dialogue to help build tension. Let’s say two characters are talking enthusiastically about their pets and then a third character joins them. Characters A and B don’t notice that character C is a bit quiet, and they talk about the funny things their pets do. And then suddenly character C starts to cry (or maybe tries to leave) and then A and B realise there’s something going on and ask what the matter is. THEN we get to the blurting out bit.

 

Here are five scenes you could try writing, to practise dialogue skills.

1. Two best friends meeting. One of them has to tell the other that he/she is moving 200 miles away with family

2. 12-year-old boy is told by his parents that they’re splitting up

3. Big sister admits to little sister that she’s terrified of taking part in the drama production

4. Boy is pressured into doing a scary stunt by other boys

5. A group of girls are planning a birthday surprise for one of their friends but then she turns up unexpectedly and they have to try to keep everything a secret while reassuring her that it’s nothing bad!

Good luck! And if you like my ideas, you could check out some of my books: the Sweet Hearts series, or my latest Looking at the Stars. And do pop across to my blog at jocotterill.com and leave me a comment – I love hearing from readers!

*I made that up. But it’s probably true.

(Note from LSW - once you've read Jo's incredibly helpful blog, why not click on the 'comment' box below and write her a message or ask a question? It's not very often you get to chat to a real children's author!)

Little Star Journalists at the Radio Times Festival 2015 (Sir David Attenborough, David Walliams and Anthony Horowitz)

A few months ago, we launched a competition for Little Star Writers to win tickets to events with David Walliams and Anthony Horowitz at the Radio Times Festival (and they even had the chance to act as journalists for the day and ask the authors some questions!).

This is the first year the Radio Times have run their festival, but what a weekend it was! We were lucky enough to get VIP tickets to a talk with Sir David Attenborough, too, and it was without-a-doubt one of the most insightful and inspiring events we've been to. David spoke about his extensive career in the broadcasting industry, but we particularly enjoyed hearing him explain how he writes scripts for the programmes he creates such as 'Planet Earth'. It's incredible how he selects each word and phrase carefully to ensure each explanation is succinct, informative, entertaining, and also ensures the audience don't misinterpret what he's saying. We only wish this event went on all night...

On Sunday 27th September, Little Star Writers, Toby, Oli, Charlie and Sadie joined us on Hampton Court Green for a glorious day of sunshine, delicious food, author talks, book signings and exclusive access to the Press Tent. When we arrived (laden with LSW hoodies, clipboards, pens, lanyards and lots of questions), each Little Star Writer received a special 'press band', which they wore to get into the Press Tent and interview anyone and everyone who happened to pass by. 

What better way to start their day as journalists than by interviewing TV Editor of the Sunday Express, David Stephenson... David told us he loves his job because he gets to watch television and interview lots of interesting people for his day job. He told Little Star Writer, Sadie, that the most interesting person he's ever interviewed is Bruce Forsyth, because 'he's been in the industry for a long, long time and has lots of interesting stories to tell' (we won't tell you who he said he had the most awkward interview with!). Little Star Writer, Charlie, asked him what advice he would give to aspiring journalists and he said to: 1) keep a notebook, and 2) write about what you know. Very helpful advice, indeed!

Later in the day, they also interviewed the Editor of Radio Times, Ben Preston. Ben told us that he has interviewed people such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and that to be a good reporter, you must always, always carry a pen! 

As part of their prize, the Little Star Writers also won tickets to events with Anthony Horowitz and David Walliams. Both authors entertained us with stories of their writing journeys, readings, photos and Q&A's, and we even got our books signed! If that wasn't enough, we also met Bruce Forsyth, Julian Clarey, and the stars of Strictly Come Dancing. What a brilliant day... thank you Ben, Dom and everyone at Radio Times for giving our writers the real 'star treatment' - we already can't wait for next year!

What Does Little Star Writing Mean To You?

"What does Little Star Writing mean to you?"

We've been asking Little Star Writers this question during the last few workshops of the term, but we didn't expect the answers to be quite so personal...

"LSW is where I can be myself," one student said.

"LSW is where I can share my ideas without getting it wrong," replied another.

"LSW is where we have fun!" a few students shouted.

"It's where we learn to express ourselves and communicate our ideas," a quiet year 6 student said.

"LSW is EPIC!" yelled Will (who won't mind me mentioning him by name). "I wish it didn't have to end..."

Luckily for Will and the other year 6 students that are leaving for secondary school, Little Star Writing never has to end. Although they are no longer able to attend our workshops at their primary schools, the LSW family isn't one that just crumbles once the last class has taken place. We are in regular contact with various students who have left LSW - including some as old as 15 and 16, some who send us their stories for feedback, and some who have moved as far away as Taiwan and Qatar and email us stories of their adventures and the friends they've met.

Some sad Little Star Writers leaving LSW (before the real tears started!)

Some sad Little Star Writers leaving LSW (before the real tears started!)

Despite not losing contact with them, saying goodbye to the year 6 students last week was even harder than previous years, and that's because they’ve been with us the longest. When we started LSW 3 years ago, they were the youngest in the class and we’ve watched them grow in confidence, improve their skills and mature before our very eyes. During their time with us, they’ve learnt:

- how to communicate their ideas

- how to give and accept constructive criticism

- how to support and boost peers who think their work ‘isn’t good enough’

- how to work in groups and adapt their ideas to suit other’s

- how to edit and re-edit a piece of work to make it the best it can be

- how to share work with enthusiasm and flair

- how to entertain people with their ideas

- to listen and appreciate other people’s work

- to unleash their imaginations

- to follow instructions

- to work to time constraints and/or take their time

- to try their hand at something new

- to give something a go even if they’re not sure of it at first

- to be confident in their own ideas

- to be original

- “to be themselves…”

Of course we teach students new writing rules and story structures, we arrange author events so they can ask questions and get feedback on their work, and we introduce them to the rewarding nature of writing by publishing their work and entering them into competitions, but LSW isn’t just about advancing their writing skills. Occasionally parents ask us why we don’t mark the student’s work, why we don’t correct spellings or punctuation, and why we sometimes allow students to write ‘silly stories’, and it’s always tricky to answer, because, honestly, that’s not what LSW is about.

We believe that the success of the workshops or the improvement of a Little Star Writer cannot always be measured by how many words they can spell or what writing level they have attained… when a shy student asks to read their work out for the first time, when a reluctant writer races into the classroom and ‘can’t wait to start writing’, when students refuse to leave at the end of a session, when parents leave work early to say goodbye to us at the end of the term, when we get invited to end-of-year productions because students want us there, when we hear that students race out of bed on a ‘LSW day’ because they can’t wait to get to school, when we receive thank you cards and beautifully-written letters, when teachers tell us they’ve seen a difference in a child’s attitude toward writing, when students feel confident to express themselves through their writing, or just when a child says ‘thank you’ at the end of a class because they’ve enjoyed themselves… Little Star Writing isn’t just a club to improve writing skills – yes we love it when students increase by a whole writing level in one term, and we are incredibly proud when our students win competitions, are shortlisted for awards, and remember a new rule we’ve taught them, but we are most proud of being able to help students develop a love for writing.

 

As one lovely mum/teacher told us last year, "I don't care if my daughter doesn't improve her writing. She loves coming, and she's using her imagination instead of relying on the iPad or TV to entertain her. As long as she's enjoying herself, we'll keep coming.' Another teacher added to that by saying, 'It's incredible that you can actually get children to enjoy writing and they look forward to it. What a turn around from this time last year when it took a lot of coaxing and persuasion to get them to write anything at all.'

 

For more LSW feedback and to see what Little Star Writing means to other parents and students, check out our KalliKids profile (a parent recommendation website) here. We've also been shortlisted for a KalliKids award (for Best UK Educational Provider) and if you would like to vote for us, you can do so here(you'll find us in the 4th drop down box). THANK YOU!

"What does LSW mean to you?"

To us, Little Star Writing is a place for children to be children. It's where they can use their imagination, develop crucial communication skills they'll use for the rest of their lives, and it's a place where they are not afraid to express themselves.

It's Our Birthday!

Three years ago, Little Star Writing started as a series of five workshops - a 'trial' to see if the dream in our head could work in the 'real world'. It involved 11 students, a series of worksheets and activities, and a big plan to change the perception of writing amongst children aged 7-11.

After just five one-hour workshops, the students at Trafalgar Junior School begged us to continue in the next academic year, and when the word spread to neighbouring schools, we officially launched LSW workshops in three more schools in September 2012.

Fast-forward three years and we have won a business award, taken LSW workshops to International British Schools around the world, secured sponsorship with Penguin Random House, Usborne and Nosy Crow, launched regular after school workshops in 20 schools, started half term Writing Retreats and 1:1 tuition, and even held our own literary festival for children.


We wanted to take a moment between our crazy plans to stop and thank everyone that has supported us throughout the last three years - all of the students, parents, LSW tutors, teachers, authors, and publishers who have helped make LSW what it is today... THANK YOU!

We have achieved far more than we thought possible in the last three years, and we can't wait to see what the next three years will bring, but right now, there's nothing left to do except celebrate...

Some ways you can help us celebrate our 3 year anniversary:

- Leave us a review on our KalliKids page

- Help us reach more parents / teachers by 'liking' or sharing our Facebook page

- Send us a celebratory #HappyBirthdayLSW tweet! (@littlestarwrite)

- Just eat cake!

Time

It's been quite a while since we've written a blog post, and the reason for that is very simple... TIME. There just hasn't been enough of it.

They say time goes quickly when you're having fun, and we know that to be 100% true. Most LSW workshops are over an hour long, but between the games, activities, worksheets, group work, sharing ideas, reading out, awarding prizes and certificates (and generally having so much fun it should be made illegal), the workshops race by as if they are just ten minutes long. The resounding groans at the end of the sessions and pleas to continue for 'just another five minutes' are testament to that, and we feel very lucky to have a job that is so enjoyable for everyone involved.

In a bid to give ourselves more of that precious thing called time, we launched our half term Writing Retreats at the end of 2014, and created workshops that were three hours long - yes, THREE HOURS! We thought it was our greatest idea yet - thirty students, two LSW Tutors and three glorious hours of LSW activities. We're ashamed to admit that we couldn't have been more wrong...

Yet again, time seemed to fast-forward in a blur of laughter and writing challenges, and before we could glance at the clock, parents were queuing up to collect their children and we were forced to pack the famous star costume away. Don't get me wrong, the students still manage to do plenty of writing. In fact, we're convinced some of them have secret pens that do all of the writing for them (like Rita Skeeter's Quick Quill). After all, it's not humanly possible for an eight-year-old to write nine pages in three hours, is it?

Despite wishing we had an extra couple of hours in the day, the truth is, we're pretty sure we'd still find something to fill it with. We've had an incredible start to 2015, and with so many ideas to help improve and strengthen LSW workshops (and with a few secret projects in the pipeline), we can't wait to see what the rest of the year will bring.

We'd like to take this opportunity to thank every single tutor, student, parent, teacher, author, illustrator, lecturer, agent, editor, publicist and LSW fan who has supported us so far...

Little Star Writers Interview Axel Scheffler

Lena: On Saturday 29th November, we interviewed the illustrator, Axel Scheffler, at Kew Bookstore in Kew. He is responsible for illustrating many children’s stories including ‘The Gruffalo’, ‘Room on the Broom’ and ‘Monkey Puzzle’. It was amazing meeting the man himself and getting our books signed. But before that, we got to ask him some questions about his job…

Layla: I asked if he was good at drawing when he was little. He said he wasn’t that good but he always liked it. I also asked how he thought the Gruffalo would look. Axel said that the text in the book described how the Gruffalo should look but he also thought that ‘Gruffalo’ rhymed with ‘Buffalo’ and so based it on that too. However Julia (the author) saw the Gruffalo as more of an alien.

Lena: Axel went on to explain that he loves his job, and has wanted to be an illustrator from quite a young age. Because he has wanted to be an illustrator for so long, when I asked him what he would be if he wasn’t an illustrator, he had no idea what to reply with!

Hannah: I asked if he had based any of his characters on pets or people. He was sure he hadn’t but he said that Julia thinks he has drawn her a few times but it wasn’t deliberate. She thought that the diver in ‘Tiddler’ was meant to be her and she also sees herself as one of the giant townspeople in ‘The Smartest Giant in Town’.

Lena: Axel told us that he illustrated his first published book straight after he came out of art school. It was called ‘The Piemakers’ and it was filled with black and white illustrations.

Hannah: I asked Axel who his favourite illustrator was and he said straight away ‘William Steig’ – an American who illustrated the book ‘Shrek’, which was later turned into the film.

Lena: When I asked him what his favourite thing to draw was he replied that he enjoyed drawing small animals, and he especially enjoyed drawing rodents.

Layla: I asked if he had any advice on how to draw the Gruffalo. Axel said he didn’t have any special advice, but that you could always copy it or trace it.

Hannah: I explained to Axel that in most of his books after ‘The Gruffalo’, I had seen the face of the Gruffalo somewhere. He said, “That’s a very good question, are you going to ask me where they all are now?” I said yes. He started with ‘The Snail in the Whale’ and remembered it was a child drawing the Gruffalo’s face in the sand. Then he mentioned where it was in ‘Zog’, ‘The Highway Rat’ and ‘Tiddler’ but he couldn’t remember that there was one in ‘Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book’. I reminded him where it was - in ‘Goldilocks and The Three Bears’, there is a drawing of it stuck on the wall!

Lena: In total it was very interesting and enjoyable interviewing Axel Scheffler and learning about him in more detail. It was also great having some of his brilliant books signed after asking the questions!

 

A note from Little Star Writing: We'd like to say a very big thank you to Axel for agreeing to an interview with the Little Star Writers, and also to Hannah, Layla and Lena, who asked some brilliant questions and wrote this fantastic blog post for us. Another big 'thank you' goes to the lovely folk at Kew Bookstore - do pop down when you get a chance and visit their little treasure trove of children's books!

THREE STEPS TO WRITING by SF Said

I like to break writing down into three steps. The first step is HAVING AN IDEA. People often ask me how to get ideas. The truth is that we all have ideas, all the time. Just think of yourself as a reader rather than a writer – and then write the story you would most love to read yourself!

That's how I had the idea of writing Phoenix. I’ve always loved space stories. The stars have always filled me with a sense of wonder. I love the thought of other life; other worlds, out there in the universe… Yet there aren’t many books set in space for younger readers. So I had to sit down and write my own!

The second step is WRITING A DRAFT, in which you tell yourself the story you want to read. Do a bit of it every day, until you reach the end. But remember that no-one can write a great book in just one draft. I've never met a single writer who could do that; a book is too big and complicated. You need to build it over a number of drafts.

The way you do this is the third step: EDITING. Once you've written a draft, try to read it as if someone else had written it. Stop being the writer, and become the reader again. And then, as the reader, ask yourself all the questions you ask of every other story you read. What works? What doesn't? What should there be more of? And less of? Then go back to being the writer, and do everything you can to make it more like the story you want to read. Keep doing this, again and again, until it's the best version of the story you can possibly write.

To illustrate how much things can change in this process, I'm going to show you an early draft of Phoenix. First of all, for comparison, have a good look at the extract above. It's the opening of the final, published draft. Once you know it well, have a look at the opening of my early draft:

Can you see how much has changed? It's gone from first person to third person. From present tense to past. It's become a dream. The setting has completely changed. The only thing that's the same is a character gazing up at the stars. That's the heart of it; but everything around it is different!

That process took me 13 drafts. It was long and hard – but it was worth it, because Phoenix is the book I wanted to read; a book that didn't exist before I wrote it. And you will feel the same about the stories that you write. So I'd like to wish you all happy writing, and happy reading – because in the end, the key to being a writer is really just being a reader!


Note from Little Star Writing: 'We consider ourselves very lucky to have met the talented, award-winning and super-inspiring SF Said. SF met some of the Little Star Writers at Nelson Primary School and Trafalgar Junior School in 2013 / 2014, and gave feedback on their work, offered some helpful advice and writing tips, and even signed some copies of his books for them. It was great to hear about life as a writer from such an honest, hard-working author, and we hope you enjoy reading his very special LSW blog post. For more information on SF and his books, go to his website (click hereand do make sure you follow him on Twitter -@whatSFsaid'

Calling all Little Star Writers, Parents, Teachers, Authors and Publishers - we need YOU!

It's not often I get stuck for what to write, but deciding what to include in this first blog post has proven more difficult than asking a three-year-old to do mental arithmetic (okay, slight exaggeration).

But in all honesty, it took me a while to figure out what to write, and that't not usually something I'm used to. My problem is a common one - one that a lot of children face when it comes to writing - and that's thinking of ideas.


Generally the process of putting ideas onto paper can be split into two categories:

1) There's those that have little confidence in their ideas and struggle to put their thoughts onto paper.

2) There's those that have so many ideas, they come out in a bit of a jumbled mess, resulting in a piece of writing that doesn't make much sense.

When I was a child (and sometimes now) I'd say I fit into the second category, and putting my thoughts into some sort of coherent order has been something I've learnt over time. Now, as much as I'd like to let all of my ideas pour out of my head and into this blog post, I fear it might resemble something like the picture below...

So instead, I decided to do the civilised thing (yes, students, I can be civilised from time to time!) and start by explaining why I've decided to launch a LSW Blog. The answer is very simple... writing can be quite a lonely hobby or career choice. At LSW, we want to celebrate writing as much as we can. We want to inspire children and teenagers, and help foster a life-long love for writing.

The LSW Blog gives us another outlet to do this. We can give writing tips and advice, showcase some of the Little Star Writer's work, set challenges and competitions with winning entries being posted on the blog, we can feature write-ups from our adventures at author events, Literary Festivals and International British Schools around the world, and we can ask Little Star Writers, authors and industry experts to write guest posts, comment on blog entries, and give feedback on the Little Star Writer's work.

We want to make writing more accessable and more interactive, but we can't do this without YOU. Whether you're a Little Star Writer, sibling, parent, teacher, author, illustrator, editor, literary agent, or singing monkey (especially if you're a singing monkey!), please do feel free to comment on posts, 'share' / retweet links, or send us your suggestions for blog posts or competitions. Whoever you are, we'd love to hear from you, and I know the Little Star Writers would, too. Lets give them an audience, lets inspire them - and let them inspire us - lets give them an opportunity to SHINE.