I have been writing ever since I could hold a pen, which was about the age of five. My first story was about a pair of magic knitting needles which went crazy – a bit like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which no doubt may have influenced me. ( have since re written it from memory as a short story entitled Clacketty Clack, which I may well publish on Smashwords.) I wrote my first play at 7 or 8 – it was a nativity play, all told from the POV of the donkey, in heroic rhyming couplets. It was performed for many years by my old nursery school and even got a review in the Croydon Advertiser! It is interesting that my most successful book has also been a Christmas story. As a child I was a bit of a dreamer and spent a lot of time sitting in my treehouse imagining I was Robin Hood, or when I was in my wigwam, Pocohontas. I was always top at English and rubbish at Math. I loved Enid Blyton, CS Lewis and my favourite book was the Hobbit. I started reading sci fi and horror such as Edgar Allen Poe, HG Wells and Jules Verne at about 10. I am really a 10 year old tomboy at heart. After school and university I decided I would earn my living as a writer and always have done, with varying degrees of success. I spent many years working in newspapers, advertising and PR, writing ads and jingles for the likes of McDonalds and Hoover, plus my own stuff on the side, and broke into kids TV in the late 80’s, by writing a sample script on spec, working on various kids shows and then animation. I have learnt on the job and have over 20 years experience writing for kids and have worked for Hit, Henson, Disney, ITV and BBC on shows like Angelina Ballerina, the Hoobs, Shaun the Sheep, Magic Key Adventures, Animal Stories, and my own live action comedy drama show for CBBC, Big Kids. I wrote a few little books, such as the Animal Stories spinoffs and Lily the Lost Puppy for Working Partners. My first proper book came out in 2005, Nickolai of the North, followed by Nickolai’s Quest, published by Hodder, about the childhood of Santa Claus, after a long development history via CITV and the UKFilm Council. It started as a half hour animation, then a film and I turned it into a book. I have written a stage musical version which has been performed and is to be performed again this Christmas. I have also just re-optioned the film rights. I recently published two sci fi fantasy fiction titles, Goddess in Pyjamas and a free short story prequel, Skye’s Secret Mission, on Smashwords. The first title is the first in a trilogy, all about a schoolgirl’s adventures in space, on another planet, where she is the re-incarnation of their male god, and has to save their world.
Tell us about the genre of your work.
I would say I write in the area of fantasy/adventure. Sometimes it goes into sci fi, sometimes historical. With the Goddess book is I am trying to re-invent the genre as ‘pink sci fi’ as I think girls should have their own version of sci fi. It has the unusual twist of a girl hero in a boy genre, but I think it’s time girls got a look in and had their own adventures in space. As I loved this genre as a child, I would have liked to see more proactive female heroes. With my new historical idea, I am again bringing in a feminist slant and it deals with a girl who is born before her time and examines the role of females in our society.
Why did you choose this genre?
I prefer writing in another world other than the one we know. I like to invent new worlds. I want to escape and I guess that’s why I like working in fantasy as a genre – it provides escapism. I like writing for kids as it suits my wild imagination and I grew up on adventure stories. My ideas always seem to come out kid shaped! I have considered writing for adults but nothing seems to come out. I also like playing with gender theory and I think this is important for young readers.
What are some of your books, stories that have been published?
Camilla the Camel and Sammy the Hippo, from Animal Stories, for preschool, Lily the Lost Puppy, Macmillan/Working Partners, for 5- 8, the Nickolai books for 8 – 12 and the Goddess in Pyjamas for 9 – 13.
What ages do you direct your books?
I think I am most comfortable writing for the 8-12 age group, as this is where adventure and fantasy is most important. And you can be more exploratory and surreal than younger or older age groups. Your characters go outside the home sphere and often away from parents. Teen fiction can be supernatural, but it’s not so innocent. I like that innocence and sense of wonder. I have written a lot of preschool for TV because that is where the work is. Simplicity and depth are hard to achieve and pre school is not as easy as it looks. But then neither is writing!
Can you tell us more about your work?
Goddess in Pyjamas - Paul Hurst /Smashwords - 2011 - don't know the ISBN, can find out from Paul. Most recent publication. Sci fi fantasy for 9+ readers about a schoolgirl’s adventures on another planet. Hitchikers Guide meets Wizard of Oz.
Skye's Secret Mission - (6000 words approx) Paul Hurst/Smashwords - 2011, ISBN as above.
Prequel short story taster about the boy hero from the other planet who goes to rescue her from a predatory UFO and why, setting up the whole story.
A magical fantasy set at the North Pole, about the childhood of Santa Claus, and why he carries out his mission every year. Now available from Tinkerbell books, (email@example.com) and soon to be re-editioned as an ebook with Smashwords October 2011.
Nickolai's Quest - Hodder Children's Books 2007 - ISBN - 978-0-340-90302-5
The sequel about how Nickolai carries out his first Christmas mission against all odds. Now available from Tinkerbell books, (firstname.lastname@example.org) and soon to be re-editioned as an ebook with Smashwords. October 2011.
For new readers aged 5-8, about a puppy who is left behind when her owners move house and her adventure and quest to be reunited with them.
Camilla the Camel, Animal stories, (picture book) Harper Collins/Collingwood O Hare Entertainment - spinoffs from TV show - 2001ISBN - 0-00-710872-9
Preschool - about a camel who can’t find a ballgown to fit her hump.
Sammy the Hippo, (picture book) Animal stories, Harper Collins/Collingwood O Hare Entertainment - spinoffs from TV show - 2001ISBN 0-00-710872-9
Preschool - about a young mud loving hippo and his conflicts with his houseproud Mum.
Nickolai of the North play script - Jasper publishing, 2010, ISBN 978 1 906997 74 8
Stage musical version with 17 songs, sheet music available for 7.
Do your books have a teaching objective? If so, what is it?
Yes there is always a life skill lesson in every story I write. And of course that all-important character arc. Every story for any age is a life skill lesson and helps us to live our lives, but kids lit is about helping kids find their place in the world. When writing TV scripts, the producers always have learning objectives to fulfill. But I don’t like to ram the moral message down the kids’ throats – it has to be done in an entertaining way. Because I write fantasy, there is always a lot of background research to be done, which I love. It’s like going on adventure. This includes, astronomy, geology, geography, zoology, history and every subject in the curriculum. Research feeds the imagination and my website (http://www.lucydanielraby.co.uk/) is very content rich with background research and working methods such as charts, maps and plots and plans. I also teach story workshops in schools and show kids my working methods and background research.
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?
I sort of meditate for about two nano seconds and the names often pop into my head. It’s like they were waiting there ready to be plucked from the ether. But then that is the case with the characters and stories – they are already out there in the collective subconscious, waiting to be brought alive or told. Often names come from the bank of references stored in your brain. The name for the planet in the Goddess book is Ventura – based on a motel where we stayed in New Zealand. New Zealand provided a lot of inspiration for this weird and wonderful planet, a sort of compendium edition of earth with evolutionary mutations. Zoetropia, named after the earliest animation technique, is a cartoony city like a kaleidoscope, and there is a character called Ozymandias – a pompous leader who is like the character must have been in the Shelley poem.
How did you develop the character/s of your in each of your books (If you have more than one)?
You never base them on real people, but on a hybrid amalgam. A character is a metaphor for a person, just as a story is a metaphor for life.
You also never use stereotypes, but archetypes. (Notice there are no fiction books about astrology signs cos that is stereotyping) As in the Jungian teachings of Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler (Hero with a Thousand Faces and the Writers Journey, recommended reading ) you work with the mythic archetypes, and characters correspond to the archetypal energies within all of us –ie Mentor, Shadow, Hero, Shapeshifter etc. This is the Hero’s Journey. The characters are there to support and serve the story, each must have a job, a dramatic function. Often you create a character only to leave them behind in a cave, and another one pops up. This means you don’t need one because he hasn’t a job, and a job function has cropped up for another. The archetypes are demanding to come onto the stage of your story. Characters often change mask/roles in a story and an ally can become an opponent, a Shapeshifter can become a Mentor. We all serve different roles to different people in our lives, and it’s all about doing characters he right job in the story at the right time.
I often use a known actor as a sort of homunculus to help me imagine the character. For Queen Magda in Nickolai of the North, I based her on a megalomaniac and very vain woman who I worked for at the CBBC. But I saw her visually as Katherine Zeta Jones. Now I could see her played also by Helena Bonham Carter or Eva Green, who does dark beautifully in the Camelot series. Nickolai came about as I wrote the story. He was already there but I had to delve into his past to find out who he really was. I often base characters on my pets, or their energy inspires me. Volpo was based on my collie dog who howled and spoke, and Pluto, the black tomcat from ‘Goddess’ who turns into a black panther, is based on my own cat, who has a big cat inside him. Venus Matthews is based a lot on my daughter and my memory of what she went through when she went up to Senior School. She was a bit vague and ditsy and was lacking in confidence at the time. But she was also based on my own memories. There are a lot of anthropomorphic characters in the Goddess book. The animal energy – or Jungian animus and anima – drives them. I use animal energy a lot to drive my characters and living in the country is very inspiring . The reindeer in Nickolai of the North were inspired by the wild deer on my land. I often dream of animals too, and look up the interpretation on dream websites and use that insight.
I also use visual means to create characters. I see patterns in the steam on the bathroom wall, or in the trees or clouds; I see a face, or figures, and often a building or landscape , then sketch it and develop it. The visual side is very important. I got most of the characters for Nickolai’s Quest this way: Fangle, the half goblin half elf, Jarkov the Mammoth, and Vilmar the ancient King. There they were just staring at me and I keep a pad and pen by the bath. It gets a bit soggy! But I got Moomsa, the dinosaur lady from a children’s book illustration course at City Lit. We had a monster creation session and she came out of it. Pluto from ‘Goddess’ also came off the bathroom wall. I put my sketches on my study wall along with maps of the world I have created to inspire me while writing.
So there are many different ways of creating and developing characters. But really the best way to develop a character is to put them in a situation and see what they do. That way you find out who they are and what makes them tick. I also think that there is a little bit of myself in every character I write.
Is there a unique character or a recurring character if you have more than one published or to be published book?
Yes Nickolai – who will not leave me alone. I want to write a 3rd book to complete the trilogy. And Venus and Pluto from the Goddess books. And my new character Henrietta from the historical fiction idea. Characters become very real. They are always with you and are walking around inside your head demanding attention. Sometimes you even find yourself confusing their names with real peoples’! Like – but I invited Nickolai to lunch!
What is your favorite thing about your book/s?
The now-ness of when I’m writing them. And the characters and the worlds I create for them. I like to think I have gone somewhere no-one has been before.
Is your book illustrated? If so, would you tell us by whom, and if you worked with an illustrator, can you discuss that experience?
The Nickolai books are illustrated by David Wyatt, front cover, and Ted Dewan, inside. I gave Ted my own sketches to show him what was in my head. I was fully involved with my editors and art directors in briefing out the illustrations and I was very satisfied with the results, as it showed I had told my story well enough for them to pick up the images in my head. I was even shown the roughs and allowed to give notes. This satisfied me as in TV you don’t get a chance to discuss visuals with the director. He/she is brought in later to save money. You write the script and off it goes. But back in the advertising days I worked closely with art directors and graphic designers creating campaigns and I enjoyed that synergy, because stories are about pictures as well as words and the two should be conceptualized simultaneously in my opinion. I have not done many picture books, but publishers prefer authors to hand over the mss then get the illustrator in. I would prefer to work closely from the start with the illustrator on a picture book as the two work even more closely together, but that is not the way it’s done. Ideally I would like to learn to illustrate myself. Some of the best authors are also illustrators, like Lauren Child, Cornelia Funke or Shirley Hughes. The words and pictures are inextricable. But if you send an mss to a publisher don’t get it illustrated by your friend. Kiss of death. They like to keep it separate. They feel it’s a fait a compli, and might like the pictures not the words or vice versa. You have to let them control it unless you illustrate yourself and your visuals also have a strong voice. I had the front cover for the Goddess book illustrated by a young French artist I met on facebook. I felt her colourful, fairy tale style was right for this book. I briefed it out myself – mostly in French. I now think I may have tried to put too much in.
How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?
Writing for kids is in my opinion more demanding than people think. Kids are very fussy and they demand a range of material. When you write for kids you don’t write down to them or patronize them. You don’t write for your kid or any other kids, but for the ‘kid inside.’ You have to reach back and have a hotline to your own childhood. Writing for kids has a stronger and different character arc I think, and obviously deals with the issues that concern kids growing up in the world. It is usually a Rite of Passage story type. There is no sex except for teen fiction. I like it but I would like to swear sometimes and write about sex. I am slowly moving up towards teen fiction I think. I would also like to deal with gritty topics like gay issues and transexuality.
Are there any problems in getting children’s’ books published?
Yes – an overcrowded marketplace! Plus a risk averse mainstream publishing industry. Even more risk averse with kids lit, as it has a smaller market. And of course everyone thinks they can do it cos they think it’s easier but it isn’t. The celebs writing kids books make me want to puke. I bet their editors do most of the work. It’s also more difficult reaching your market, especially with SP ebooks. How do you promote ebooks to kids? It’s intangible. You have the gatekeepers – ie teachers and parents – to get past. There are social networking sites but how do you legitimately find the kids on them, when they’re not legally supposed to be on it under 13? Most of the social networking sites for kids are gaming ones, difficult to promote books on. You have to try and get into schools, but how can you visit every school in the land? It’s harder to get an ‘in’ at schools, libraries, litfests and review websites if you’re not a well known author with a big publisher behind you, and school teachers are notoriously overworked and short of time. But you have to rely to a certain extent on word of mouth and I have managed to get into a lot of schools. The other problem is that kids grow up fast and out of your age range, so you have to keep up the momentum with new books to pick up new followers, otherwise you lose the market and have to start all over again. But with publishers the main problem with kids books is the size of the market. There is less spending power. Harry Potter only got so big because it went crossover. That is the thing to aim for.
Why and when did you begin writing?
Like I said I have been writing since I could hold a pen, aged 5 and have never stopped. It is a compulsion. Stories burst out of you. I lived and breathed stories then and I do now. Stories are my life.
What is your writing schedule?
Erm – about 8 – 10 hours a day. Although as an SP author now, I am having to spend a lot of time on admin and promo, so I don’t know if you count that. Like I’m doing this now! I start work at about 8 – 9am and finish about 6ish. I watch the news. I take a break at lunchtime and some exercise. I walk my dog and think. I like to work for about half an hour then exercise and think. But if anything kicks in to take me away I hate it and resent it. I feel I am being robbed. Doctors, dentists, family demands, exercise classes, cooking, admin. It’s hard having to do admin and correspondence as you get out of the zone. Writers need lots of space – not necessarily physical but metaphorical – like ‘leave me alone’. I hate being interrupted when writing. It’s painful, like being jerked awake. I have been known to do all nighters and often work longer hours when I’m on a roll or have a deadline.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
Apart from the 2nd Venus book, I am currently also working on a historical fiction series set in the 17th century, called Henry Henrietta, about a girl who runs away from an arranged marriage and disguises herself as a boy. Again it is a sub teen adventure and my agent really likes the idea. I want to write the 3rd Nickolai title, a prequel leading into the first book, and I also have tons of shorter picture book or young reader ideas which I want to work up. So no shortage of ideas. It always irritates me on social occasions when people have the nerve to tell me what to write, or presume to give me their ideas which are usually pathetic. I want to bite their heads off! Do they think we’re sitting around waiting for them to tell us what to write? Do I tell them how to do their jobs?
What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write and get published?
Just keep at it. Keep writing. That’s how you learn, by doing it, not talking about it. You can’t teach talent but you can teach how to train it. Writing is a professional skill and needs to be learnt. Go on courses and read ‘how to’ books as well. And only do it because you can’t not. But also write from the heart. And remember writers always work on instinct and spirituality and intuition. It’s like alchemy. We’re like shamen, we draw on the collective subconscious. Find ways to tap into it. Write what comes into your head , what you know, what you care about, but study form and study the market and shape your material to suit. Know who you’re talking to , what is your market and who is your reader? Remember books are a business, not a hobby. You’ve got to appeal to more than your polite friends. Know what’s already out there – so you don’t waste time duplicating. Read other books and analyze what makes them work.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?
Don’t ask a professional writer to read your lengthy manuscript and come up with feedback notes. That’s 2 or 3 days work and they haven’t the time to spare. Be prepared to rewrite. You may think you’ve finished your book but it’s just the first draft. Get your mss assessed by a company like writers’ workshop dotcom or similar. Google it! Hire a professional editor and get notes. Join a writers group. And rewrite and rewrite! This is what I drum into kids when I do workshops in schools. Don’t send in illustrations with an mss unless they’re yours. There are now different ways to get in – not only the traditional route with agents and publishers. Research it all. Think carefully before signing papers. Don’t let anyone rip you off. Learn to detect other people’s agendas. Be prepared to do spec work within reason at the outset. You will learn from it. Rewriting is your training. Make your work as good as you can get it. Play, experiment and be prepared to change things, take things out, put them back in etc. Jot down ideas and shuffle them around. Do charts. Plot and plan in advance. Anything that works. But above all enjoy it!
What do you do when you are not writing?
Family stuff, gardening, walking, swimming, cycling, movie going, theatre going, reading, socializing anything.
Anything else you would like to add?
Write a little every day. Keep your eyes and ears open. And write down your dreams. It helps the process. It all comes from the left hand side of the brain.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
When I heard Big Kids had been commissioned by CBBC, and when I got the two book deal with Hodder. Every time anyone says something nice about my work.
You can find out more about Lucy on these websites:
Author page on Smashwords
My ebook publishers’s Sign up pages