Writing for Children with Kieran Fanning

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Our interview today is with Kieran Fanning. Kieran is a teacher in Co. Meath, Ireland.  He has an MA in Children’s Literature and wrote 4 puzzle/adventure books for children.

He also writes school textbooks and trained as a Matador de Toros, fighting bulls in the Plaza de Toros de la Ventas in Madrid. The Black Lotus is his debut novel for children and will be published by Chicken House in the summer of 2015.

 

Interview questions:

Ryan: Thanks for joining us, Kieran.

Kieran: Great to be joining you from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean via modern technology.

Ryan: Indeed! So, what made you want to get into the children’s market initially?

Kieran: Some of my happiest reading memories have been from childhood, and when I think back to the books I read then, I remember them with great fondness.  The reading experience as a child is very different to that of an adult.  It can often be more intense.  Funny bits are funnier, scary bits are scarier, and magic bits are magicer.  I know, that’s not a word–but in children’s literature, it could be a word!

That’s what I love about children’s books.  The possibilities are endless, and you can often get away with things in a children’s book that you couldn’t dream of doing in a book for adults.

They say that our childhood shapes our adulthood like nothing else, and I believe this to be important.  Which is why I think children’s books are important.  Ask anybody their favourite ten books and there’s bound to be a few books in there from their childhood.

Children’s literature is magic in so many ways, which is why so many adults still read it.  Now that I’m an adult, I want to still feel that magic.  I feel it by writing for kids.

So, I didn’t really choose the children’s market.  It chose me.

Ryan: Well said. How did you find your agent and publisher? Can you tell us a bit about that?

Kieran:  Well, the first thing I did, and this is the most important, was to get my manuscript as good as I possibly could make it.  I spent many years doing this.  Next, I bought a copy of the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and made a list of agents I wanted to submit to.  I then began multiple submissions of six.  This was quite time consuming as most agents take months to reply.  I received a lot of interest and two offers of representation.  I spoke to both agents on the phone, and they sounded really great.  But one of them offered to meet me face-to-face, and I think this was the reason I went with her.  Turned out to be one of my better decisions.

My agent then began submitting my manuscript to publishers.  Again, there was a lot of interest, and we received two offers.  I went with Chicken House, and they have proved to be fantastic!

So, I’m very lucky–I now have a great agent and a great publisher.  But if I make it sound easy, let me tell you, it was not.  I know how hard it is to get an agent and/or a publisher, which is why I always try to help new writers looking for advice.

Ryan: How is it different writing for children than for adults?

Kieran: In many ways, it’s not that different.  Like adults, kids just want a well written, captivating story with interesting characters.  But I think kids have shorter attention spans than adults so they won’t put up with the realms of exposition you often find in adult books.  You have to hook a young audience quickly and dazzle them every step of the way so that they’ll stick with you for the entire journey.  For younger kids, there are also certain things which are no-go areas like sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  Actually, rock and roll is okay.  But you have to be careful about using violence and bad language–stuff like that.

Ryan: What sort of pitfalls do you see when you read children’s books from other authors? What’s a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind?

Kieran:  To be honest, the standard of children’s literature is so high, I don’t really see any pitfalls.  Dos and don’ts?  Hmm–let’s see.

DON’T write what is fashionable or what you think readers will read.  Write what YOU want to write, or what you’d like to read.  As Patrick Ness said in a recent interview–put your love into your writing and people will love it too.

DO ask for advice, but learn which advice to take and which to reject.  By the way, this is one of those pieces of advice you should take!

DO read as much as you can, in and out of your writing genre, but especially in it.

DO learn the basics–show, don’t tell.  No passive writing, etc., etc. But once you’ve learned the rules, learn how to break them.  Even formula one drivers had to learn the basics to drive a car.  But you must throw the basics out the window to win a race.

DON’T think writing for children is easy just because the books are short.  Picture books usually have less than 1,000 words, but you go and try get a picture book published!  Famously, it’s one of the most difficult markets to break into.  Less is more–more difficult.

Ryan: Are there certain clichés that an aspiring children’s writer should watch out for?

Kieran: Not sure how to answer this one.  Obviously, don’t write about a yellow bear who loves honey, or a boy wizard attending a school for wizards, or a caterpillar who was hungry.  If it feels like a cliché, then don’t use it.

Ryan: What non-children’s type of book do you read that helps you the most with writing for children?

Kieran: I write fiction so that’s all I read–fiction for kids and fiction for adults.  I don’t read “How to” books or non-fiction.  Having said that, I did read Stephen King’s On Writing and thought it was really good.  But yeah, fiction is my craft, so that’s what I read.

Ryan: How do you come up with your plot/story ideas?

Kieran:  I get ideas everywhere–from books, movies, songs, poems, people, newspapers, and Twitter.  I write them down and leave them to germinate or fester for a few years.  Those that fester will never be written, but those that germinate cannot be ignored because their shoots keep growing, and when one of their green tendrils wraps around your writing hand, it’s time to write THAT story.

Ryan: Let’s say that someone reading this wanted to start writing for the children’s market. Would the writer go about becoming published the same way as for adult books, or is the process different?

Kieran: I think the process is much the same.

Ryan: What advice would you give to the aspiring author who hopes to one day crack into the industry and become a success?

Kieran: 1. The first piece of advice again belongs to Patrick Ness (you can tell I’m a fan!).  You must ask yourself if you want to become a writer, or a published writer?  If the answer is the latter, you may find it a struggle, because your focus is on the end product.  But if all you want to do is write, and this is what makes you happy, then chances are your love will shine through your writing, and THIS is what will get you published.

2. Seek critiques of your writing from people who are not friends or family.  Even better if they are readers or writers of your genre.  You will find these people in writing groups or online.  Online critters (those who critique) are probably better in so many ways because the non-face-to-face contact often encourages a honesty that is sometimes lost in a face-to-face meeting.

3. Persist.  Yes, it’s tough.  But if you love what you’re doing and you keep at it, you’ll eventually make it.

Ryan: What book/project are you working on now? And where can we find your books?

Kieran: I’m editing my debut novel called The Black Lotus.  It’s a Middle Grade adventure set in the near-future of a samurai take-over.  It will be published by Chicken House and will be out this summer.

Ryan: Again, thank you for your time. We’re glad to have you on.

Kieran: My pleasure.  Thank you for having me.

Ryan: Readers, check out Kieran’s upcoming book, The Black Lotus and give it a read. You can also visit him on his website or on Twitter.

 

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