Sally’s Wriggley Worms : A toddler story

Sally puts on her wellies.

“Wrong feet,” says Mum.

Sally puts her wellies on the right feet. That feels better.

Mum opens the door and Sally hops down the steps. One, two, three.

Mum puts on her garden gloves and kneels down by the vegetable patch.

Sally kneels down next to her and pulls out a big huge weed.

“That’s not a weed!” says Mum.” That’s an onion!”

“Oops,” says Sally and tries to put it back in the ground but it doesn’t fit anymore.

Sally finds her red shovel. She starts digging under the tree.

“Don’t dig there. I planted daffodil bulbs in the ground there.” says Mum.

“Oops,” says Sally.

Sally picks up her watering can and turns on the tap. Water splashes all over her and her dress gets wet. Sally doesn’t mind getting wet. She fills her watering can.

“Don’t give the flowers too much water Sally, we don’t want them to drown,”says Mum.

Sally puts down her watering can. She sits on the grass and looks around for something to do. She sees a big long worm sliding towards Mum.

Sally picks up the worm and shows it to Mum, “Look, a wriggley worm!”

“Yuck,” says Mum.

Sally sits down on the grass again.

“I don’t like worms but the soil loves worms,” says Mum, “Maybe you could find me lots of worms and put them in this soil. Worms make the soil really healthy. Then it will grow great vegetables.”

Sally jumps up again and finds loads of worms and spends the rest of the morning putting them in the vegetable patch.

“You’re a great helper Sally,” says Mum when it’s time to go in for lunch.

“So are you Mum,” Sally says, “Even if you are afraid of wriggley worms.”


Writing for adolescents… and the challenges it brings.

I never intended to write for a teenage audience. It just happened by itself. Now I question why I was drawn to this genre? As an adult who does not usually read young adult fiction, it was not the natural choice for my pen. The market is small and unprofitable (obviously making exceptions… Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Fault In Our Stars ). But then, what joy would there be in writing only for money? Writing for teenagers is not as easy as it sounds. For one, teenagers are harder to please than adults. Teenagers are stereotypically prone to mood changes, hunger for information, hunger for love, anger at everything that they thought they knew but then realised they didn’t.  Perhaps I thought I could make a difference.. Perhaps I romanticise the thought of helping a teenager through the challenges that adolescence brings. Or perhaps there is no reason and I just wrote what came into my head.

The first thing I noticed in myself as the writer was being hyper aware of morality; what a challenge. Teenagers don’t want to get a lecture in a novel. They don’t want to be made feel guilty for their thoughts or behaviour, especially when the thoughts confuse them. They want to identify, they want answers. They don’t want to be patronised. I can’t imagine Louisa May Alcott having these issues as she wrote “Little Women”, which is basically a morality code for young ladies. But if that classic was written in this day and age I wonder would she have the same good response. Because morality has changed and I can’t keep up. And because I can’t keep up I cannot focus on it in a novel and I certainly can’t preach it. I did have a smug initial thought of writing a modern day “Little Women” and quickly realised it was a hopeless idea. Teenagers simply would never agree nowadays on what is right and what is wrong, Whether it’s right to have sex at fifteen or not, whether to take drugs or get drunk, whether you should get on with your parents or hate them. Behaviour has become individualised and therefore there is no handbook to refer to.

The second hardest thing to deal with was how to tackle life changing issues like death. How far do you go, how much do you tell? To get an idea of how far to go I began to read other Young Adult fiction and was frankly shocked. Both by the way the stories got under my skin and by how much the authors made the reader completely immerse themselves in the issue and experience it for themselves (The books I read and recommend were The Fault in Our Stars, Infinite Sky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower). It made me realise that in fact a novel is a perfect way for a teenager to discover the hardships of life… heartache, death, abuse, family problems etc. Because they can feel the emotion for the first time, hopefully, and then put down the book and walk away. But in the process they have learnt to empathise and become a tiny bit more prepared to deal with these issues should they ever experience them.

The common theme in Y.A novels is romantic love. It appeared in every novel I read to varying degrees (I am still searching for a Y.A novel that does not look at this issue at all. I am open to suggestion). It became clear to me that to write a Y.A novel without some concept of love and lust would be a pointless battle. Thinking back to my teenage days, I was obsessed with love. If I was not in love I was dreaming of being love. Everything else came second in my mind list of priorities of life. This raised more questions for me because everyone experiences love differently and everyone has different beliefs about what love should be. One girl will love the idea of a guy who opens doors for them, makes the first move, tells the heroine how beautiful she is a hundred times a day. Another girl would hate that and want the relationship to based on complete equality, the girl asking him out as much as he asks her.

All these questions and challenges made me realise something vital. A writer can never please every reader. And a young adult writer can never please every parent. The book is not for the parents approval. And it is not for every teenager. I can only write what I feel and what I know. The reader chooses what to take on board and what to leave behind. When I started to believe that, it made it easier. In fact, it made it wonderful.

Writing my first novel… pitfalls and back up again.

Is the world made up of people who can write and people who can’t? Or is it made of people who do write and people who don’t? I would like to think the latter. Until three months ago I had considered myself a non-writer. Despite two failed attempts at novels, one which I did actually finish but was rubbish and one which I lost enthusiasm for. Then someone asked me what I did for myself, what my passions were. And my answer was that I would love to write but I don’t have the time.  In fact, I didn’t think I had time for anything outside raising a family. That got me thinking and I decided to test myself. Make myself write everyday and see what happens. Now , three months later I have just hit the 60,000 word mark which is the minimum requirement, or so I read, for young adult fiction which is my chosen genre. Whether or not my book flies or fails in the world of publishing, I really don’t care. I am succeeding as a writer. After all, a writer is, in the simplest terms, someone who writes. Published or not.

When I started to understand that writing was becoming a huge part of my life I started reading tips from other writers, advice. But it was all from established writers. Naturally. I thought about all those other beginners. All those other people who have failed or simply not succeeded yet. I would like to read their advice. It is as important to understand what not to do, as what to do.  Here are some things that I have done wrong. And some things I have done right.

Some things I have done wrong:

  1. Littered my text with the word “Suddenly”. I am dreading how many times I will need to edit out that word.
  2. I did not decide my genre until I was at 30,000 words. I started writing for an adult audience although I had teenage protagonists. I was writing away and in my head I was constantly changing the audience I was writing to. I ended up printing what I had written and reading it and then I realised that the audience was definitely young adult. That means I have huge passages that I will need to delete when I have finished the first draft because they are simply not relevant to teenagers.
  3. That leads to another mistake. Yes, I have explained why I read over what I had written before I was finished the first draft. But it was a bad idea outside of discovering my genre. I immediately started seeing my many mistakes and the urge to correct and edit was so strong. Although I resisted, I still find myself wanting to go back and change parts I read that didn’t make sense etc. But I know if I do that I will never finish my first draft. Editing is for later. Evidently it is for at least 6 weeks after I put the first draft in a drawer and lock it.
  4. When I began writing I was inhibited in what I wrote. I was too aware of what the teenage reader’s parents would approve of and not approve of. That stunted my progress. Another author said to me I needed to stop caring so much what other people think and just write. After that my writing became a lot more real.


Some things I have done right:

  1. I have continued reading frantically. Not only is reading the perfect escape for a working mum of two children under three years of age (relaxed reader, relaxed writer) but I have started looking at what I am reading in a new light. Suddenly (ha ha) I am noticing things that really annoy me that other writers do (e.g. over description, repetitive use of words etc.) and thus I can avoid repeating the same mistakes. Sometimes.
  2. The best thing I did was start writing. Before that I was someone who had the potential to become a writer. Now I actually am a writer.
  3. Reading Stephen King’s “On Writing”. Something that really stuck out at me from that book was the advice to use just “he said, she said” as much as possible. If you need to put an adjective at the end  “he said passionately, she said angrily” then the narrative is not strong enough in itself. I now constantly have that in mind. Removing the over use of adjectives is difficult. But it is easy to see how it improves the writing.
  4. Most importantly: Making writing a part of my daily routine. I used to think that I had no time to write. Sure wasn’t all my time taken up with being a mum, wife, nurse? I came to a point were I was feeling stifled from the lack of creativity going on in my brain. I decided to force myself to write everyday. And I mean FORCE. I have read other writers say that a real writer shouldn’t have to force themselves to write. But I disagree. Some days I have to force myself out of bed. That doesn’t mean I don’t love being awake. Forcing myself to go for a jog doesn’t mean I won’t feel fantastic while I’m doing it, and it certainly will feel great when the post baby belly starts shrinking. So yes, I had to force myself to write. When is the best time to write? Morning would be great, but not with two babies wanting my attention. Afternoon could work (why not give elder child her daily hour of t.v while little baby naps?). But alas being a parent comes first. And anyone with young kids knows that parenthood means constant interruption. No matter how much you plan, you just can’t plan. Interruption means bye bye creative flow. So it had to be after their bedtime. And you know what? After about two weeks of forced writing every evening I started getting up in the morning looking forward to writing that evening. In the last three months there was one day I did not write. I was too lazy and tired due to other circumstances. But that night as I lay on the couch watching t.v I felt guilty. I felt wrong. As if I was missing out on a vital part of my day. My writing had become a part of my life. I no longer need to force myself to write. 95% of the time anyway.

I have no doubt I will have more to add. I will probably be able to write reams of pages on “what not to do” once I get to the editing stage.

Until then.