Having fun writing

It is well known that everyone has at least one book in them. That may be true, or not, I really don’t know. What I do know is many people will start writing a book at some point but most will never finish it. Most will falter, struggle with the plot, lose the thread of the story and lose motivation before ten thousand words have been written.

That’s because writing is a discipline. It is hard work, it is lonely, it is time consuming and it is not for the faint hearted. It is also largely unrewarding, with most authors earning less than the living wage in book royalties. Most authors, unless they are best sellers, have full or part time jobs and do their writing in their spare time, and how many of us have spare time these days? That said, there are more good books out there than ever there were, so thank goodness for those authors who persevere.

At school I enjoyed writing stories, and I am so pleased to hear of the BBC’s 500 Words initiative that is championed by Chris Evans on his breakfast show. Let’s get children interested in stories as early as possible. I used to look forward to those English lessons when we had to write a story, and I am sure it was my story writing that helped me get my grade in my English O-Level.

One of the biggest mistakes in my early life was choosing science over the arts when I made my A-Level choices. Instead of following my strengths which were English, French and Mathematics, I was advised by the school Careers Advisor that I should follow a profession, of which there were, apparently, only four, lawyer, doctor, teacher or accountant. As I had no interest in law or accountancy and I didn’t have the patience to become a teacher I would have to become a doctor, so I chose to study science at A-Level. I was not good a Chemistry, although I was reasonable at Biology and Physics. I was good at English, my favourite subject, so I didn’t continue with it at A-Level.

All through my sixth form I secretly dreamed of becoming a best-selling author and often, in my spare time, I would write plots for novels. Horror, science fiction, crime, I wanted to cover all of those genres, but I couldn’t find one that really that suited me, and I felt there was nothing new I could bring to any of them. Perhaps a detective investigating a murder on a space station that is being invaded by aliens might have been right for me, but it never happened. Maybe in the future!

As it happens, I did write a novel. It was a horror story called The Survivors and, at just under 100,000 words, it told the story of a group of people living in the aftermath of a nuclear war. It took me four years to write and it was rejected by every publisher and agent I approached. I recently re-read it and I can totally understand why it was rejected. Although the plot and storyline were quite strong, the writing was immature. Well I was only twenty-four when I finished writing it.

I then started writing short stories as a way of getting noticed, submitting several of them to writing competitions. I received a highly commended for a Christmas ghost story I wrote for one particular competition. The critique said I had an easy writing style that comfortably drew the reader into the story, but, he continued, the story suffered from being short and was therefore rushed, I should consider making it longer, perhaps a novella or even a full-length novel.

I moved to a new house and mislaid those stories many years ago; work and family started dominating my life and, although I didn’t stop writing, it took a back seat as I worked hard to carve out a career and pay the mortgage. Instead I would encourage my two children to go for a walk in the countryside on the promise that I would tell them a story, which I would make up and, more often than not, the story featured them. Often it would include goblins, elves, fairies and various animals doing things based on what we saw on our walk. It might involve building a house in a discarded apple core or making a tunnel for hedgehogs using a discarded coke can. Whatever story I came up with, the children seemed to enjoy them, and they got exercise and fresh air at the same time.

During work travels an idea was forming for a story based in Paris during the second world war, a love story centred around an English spy working with the French Resistance. Eventually I wrote it as a two-act play. I think it is pretty good and the reason it has not yet been performed is simply because I haven’t really presented it to anyone yet. I’m still debating whether to turn it into a novel, or a musical, so it stays on the shelf for the time being.

I started writing poetry, several poems were published in poetry anthologies, and, another passion of mine, song lyrics. I teamed up with a local musician who wanted me to collaborate with him on writing a family musical based on the Edward Lear’s poem The Owl and The Pussycat. The writing process was great fun. Developing a plot based on a nonsense poem that is only about twenty lines was a real challenge, but I came up with some interesting plot threads and, eighteen months later, my local dram group staged the show and the audience and critics loved it.

I then decided I wanted to try something different

Peter Crussell is a renowned children's author and illustrator, writer of the series Tales From The Enchanted Forest. He is also a sought after lyricist and artist, his paintings are often exhibited in local art exhibitions.

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