Knowledge and skills
- Reading widely
- Discussing books
- Building on others' ideas
Clare Bevan, author of The Christmas Wish, tells us about daydreaming, Rhythm and Rhyme disease and the girl who inspired her first novel.
Where do you get your ideas?
Well, I’d love to answer: ‘From my brand new Bright-Ideas Machine,’ but it hasn’t been invented yet! So, when I’m staring sadly at a blank sheet of paper or an empty screen, I have to use all sorts of tricks to set my own wheels spinning.
First (and best of all) is the small notebook I carry everywhere, just in case a crazy idea pops into my head. This can happen at any time – walking down the street, riding on a train, drinking a cup of coffee, or waking up in the middle of the night. Of course, it helps to keep a pencil handy too.
Second (especially when my mind feels foggy) is a breezy walk. Sometimes the fresh air works like a magic spell and I race home with a whole poem in my head. Sometimes I spot a strange incident and think: ‘I must put THAT in a story. Or a play. Or a poem.’ Happily, I always have my notebook with me, so I can start scribbling straight away.
Third (and this one happens a lot) I’m afraid I have to bully myself: ‘Go and sit down NOW,’ I say as fiercely as I can. ‘Stories don’t write themselves you know.’ This method works even better if I promise myself a chocolate biscuit – but only when I’ve finished.
How did you get into writing?
I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t writing! I have always been a day-dreamer, and as soon as I could spell a few words I wanted to put my thoughts on paper. My first efforts were short plays about small animals, so at breaktime my unfortunate friends had to become crafty cats and talking mice.
When I was a bit older (but still at primary school) I started to write serial stories with plenty of chapters and illustrations. I even loved taking my work home, because I wanted to find out how each tale would end – and then paint a picture of my hero (who was often a fearless rabbit).
Luckily, I had a wonderful teacher called Mrs Barnes who never minded if she had to wait a whole week for me to finish my story – she really made me FEEL like a writer.
Much, much later, after many years of teaching (and still wishing I could be a writer) a girl called Arzana asked me why there were no adventure stories about children like her. By this she meant children with a disability. Why couldn’t a hero be blind, or deaf, or in a wheelchair? Now THAT was a challenge – and it inspired my first novel, Mightier Than the Sword. So the quick answer to your question is: I started writing because of my kind school friends, my patient teacher and my sparky pupils.
What do you like to read?
When I was a child I had two favourite authors. One was Enid Blyton, whose Famous Five books left me longing for a scary adventure of my own. The other was Anthony Buckeridge, whose stories about a schoolboy called Jennings made me laugh out loud.
Now, I find it quite hard to say exactly what sort of book I prefer. A story has to take me somewhere unexpected. I want a few twists and surprises. I rather like being terrified now and again, but sometimes it’s good to try a more difficult novel. Lately, I’ve enjoyed: Hilary Mantel (because her plots are so quirky), C J Sansom (because he mixes history with mystery) and Terry Pratchett (because his imaginary universe isn’t just funny – it’s full of wisdom too).
What’s your favourite thing to write about?
This is a difficult question, as I love a challenge – and when I’m wearing my Poetry Hat I’ve been asked to write about all sorts of strange subjects. Magic, myths and mermaids. Dragons, dinosaurs and dastardly pirates. Schools, science and slimy slugs. And even though I’m hopeless at games, I’ve had a lot of fun writing poems about sport. So I suppose my favourite thing is – whatever I’m writing about at the moment!
What do you like most about writing?
The very best bit is... finishing! Throwing down my pen and saying, ‘I’ve done it!’ And even though I always have to tweak my story (or play, or poem) until it’s Just Right, I can’t stop smiling. That’s my magic moment. Except... I love the middle bit, where I stop worrying and start scribbling madly. That’s magical too.
Who is your favourite character in The Christmas Wish?
Help! I’m rather fond of all my characters. Should I choose the boy who likes building snow creatures? The confused Crow? The helpful Snow Goose? The clever Frost Queen? The spooky Sky Sisters? The whiskery Wish-Wizard? No. I think it’ll have to be the Ice Giant. Partly because he’s kind, and partly because he’s clumsy (like me). But mainly because I’m a small person – and most of my best friends have been VERY tall!
Why do you enjoy writing in rhyme?
I sometimes joke about this, and tell people I suffer from Rhythm and Rhyme disease! I’m not sure whether I’ve inherited a fondness for verse from my granny, or whether I just fell in love with rhymes when I was a little girl. I do know I began memorising poems when I was very young, and I’ve always loved performing poetry to an audience. So I seem to need those heart-beat rhythms – and all my much-thumbed poetry books too.
And where do you like to write?
I’ve written stories and poems in all sorts of odd places – under trees, on the beach, at the zoo, anywhere! But my favourite place is my Writing Den at home. It’s a quiet room, because I like silence and solitude when I’m trying to think, and I usually have a snoozing cat to keep me company. I use a wooden desk, a fat fountain pen, plenty of lined paper, a piled-high wastepaper basket – and a laptop for my final, tidy copy. And here it is! Just in time, because Miff the Cat says she’s ready for her tea....
Some other books by Clare Bevan
- Mr Zig Zag and the Case of the Missing Pets (Pen Press £6.99)
- The Wonderful Gift (Start Writing series, Kingscourt £9.99)
- Mightier Than the Sword (Puffin, currently out of print)
- Fairytale poems (Macmillan £4.99). Also in the series: Mermaid poems, Ballerina poems and more.