Creative Writing Camps for Kids

I’ve just finished my annual creative writing camps for kids. I always think it’ll be a relief, to know that it went well and to be released from the anxiety that comes from being some way responsible for the wellbeing of small people for a week. In fact, it’s a sad moment, as I become fond of them and saying goodbye triggers a tug of my normally under-used heartstrings.

The camp was for 8-12 year olds and took place in the rather luscious surrounds of an arts centre called the Coastguard in Tramore, Co. Waterford, which overlooks the sea, and which has a cafe that caters beautifully for the sugar cravings that come after a creative-writing class.

Want to know what happened? Here’s a flavour of the shenanigans.

Day 1. Playing with Words

As the children were largely at the younger end of the 8-12 spectrum, I thought I’d break them in gently with some fun word games. The highlight was when they got to make up words of their own, with definitions to go with them. They did lots of activitis that encouraged them to play with words and get to know each other.

Day 2. Creating Characters

This was the day they got to play God and create characters of their own. I gave them a picture of a quirky girl and they gave her an identity, a name, an age, a place to live and other colourful details, including a secret about her that no one else knew. They walked like her, they talked like her and they did her family tree. Turns out children love family trees and are particularly entranced by their own.

Day 3. Travelling to New Worlds

This was a day for travelling through space and time. The children invented their own countries and sent postcards home from them. They also imagined that they were aliens who had just landed at the Coastguard and were sending a report to their spaceship commander, outlining what they saw.

Day 4. Hatching Plots

No story is complete without an event, and the children came up with lots of ideas for action filled stories. They told the stories behind wacky headlines and they did a compiled a story in a group. Each person in the group started a story and the other members in their group had to continue it. They had to do the same for the others in their group. In this activity, stories can go in weird and wonderful directions.

Day 5. The Big Story

Finally, it was time for the children to put their newfound skills to good use and write a full length story. They planned their story using a story spine. This is a series of sentences with blank spaces left in, which you fill. Those details you fill in then form the basis for your story. When they’d done that, they wrote their story.

The template for their story was that their character was charged with finding the treasure stone, to bring it back to their homeland and save their people. To do this, they had to travel through a dangerous land and defeat the monster who was guarding the stone. Despite their young age, the children rose to the challenge and produced stories full of imagination and colour.

Now it’s time to hatch plans for the next camp.



Writing A Video Script

Over the past few weeks, my copywriting work has taken an interesting direction. I’ve produced two scripts for how-to videos. The company wants to use videos to show their customers how to use their products. I’d always fancied writing video scripts, because I used to work in radio and figured that the writing style would be similar, snappy and informal.

The project was a challenge for me because the company wanted me to select the images as well as write the words, and I had to make sure the script matched the images and made sense to people using the video. Writing video scripts is similar to other forms of copywriting. You get your message across and you give a call to action at the end.

But there are three elements that are particular to video scripts, which may be useful if you’re planning a video of your own, for your business or for a book you want to promote.

 1. Write As You Speak

When you write for video, someone is going to read out what you’ve written, so make sure the language you use is easy for them to read. You can do this by writing in a chatty style, using less formal words and short sentences. When you’ve finished the script, read it out loud. Then you can weed out awkward wording and clunky sentences.

 2. Write Around the Images

In a video, the images tell the story and your script is intended to complement those images. People will grasp the main message from the image, so rather than describing exactly what happens in the image, write a general description that ties in with what’s happening on the screen and enhances it. I had to mention in my script that people could delete their work if they weren’t happy with it. I didn’t tell them how to delete it. I told them it was easy to get rid of their work and start again. People could see what to do from the image, showing a mouse clicking on a rubbish-bin symbol, and my words offered further reassurance that getting rid of their work would be hassle free.

 3. Road Test the Merchandise

This is particularly useful if you’re writing a script for an instructional videos.. You won’t always have a chance to try the products, but if you can, it’ll make your script more accurate. When you’re using the product or service, write down what you did. Then your script will show people how to use it, step by step.

This video script will give you a chance to see these three elements in action. Please share other examples of instructional or promotional videos that you think are effective.

An Unapologetic Love of Words

As writers, it’s easy to lose heart if the words in your heart don’t match the words the public want to read. You read all these articles telling you what the hottest trends in publishing are, and you realise that your work is, according to these articles, desperately out of fashion. The publishing gurus and best selling authors tell you to write what’s inside you, but those words can ring a little hollow if the words you write are often rejected.

Last Saturday, I went to a highly original one-woman show in my local town of Tramore, Co. Waterford. It was my second time going to Seriously Now, by Petra Kindler. Part monologue, part stand up comedy routine and part reflection on the meaning of language, it defies categorisation and is the most original and stimulating show I’ve seen in years.

Petra’s originality and dedication to her vision to prove that Germans really can be funny has been rewarded. She’s been included in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and will give 19 performances of her show next month.

Picture taken from Edinburgh Fringe Festival Website
Picture taken from Edinburgh Fringe Festival Website











There are three lessons that I think writers who are worried they don’t fit the mould can learn from Petra’s performance.

1. You don’t need visual aids

We live in a visual age and attention spans are dropping like stones. Social media is driven by pictures, and people who are more aural or language oriented can feel they’re being drowned out. Petra uses two highly effective visual aids, but apart from that, her message is driven solely by her words, and she’s able to keep people rapt for 60 minutes. Sometimes words really are enough.

 2. Translation is vital

Translation can be seen by many to belong to the dusty realm of academia, or obscure literary awards. In the opening part of Petra’s show, she demonstrates that translation gives a glimpse into the soul of a people, and that the quality of translation greatly changes how a reader perceives a book’s meaning. She also warns authors who want to be translated into German never to use the word “hen party.” If you go to her show, you’ll see why.

 3. Your life is more interesting than you think.

One of the great skills that writers have is being able to mine their own lives for stories that will resonate with a wider audience. Everyone has aspects to their lives which seem ordinary to them, but fascinating to everyone else. Petra is a German woman who moved to Waterford in South East Ireland and being able to send up commonly-held stereotypes about Germans has given her a rich seam of material to mine. She’s able to give an affectionate outsider’s perspective on Irish culture too.

If you happen to be in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, you can catch Petra between July 31st and August 24th in Laughing Horse @ The Phoenix, at 3.45 every day, except Mondays and Tuesdays. Petra needs those days off to gather what’s left of her marbles.

Three Advantages of Traditional Publishing

This month’s Writing Magazine has a big special on self publishing, in which authors frankly share their warts and all experiences of the self publishing world. Self publishing is certain gaining momentum as a way to get your work out into the world. Authors are carving out incredibly successful careers independently of publishing houses. It’s never been easier to put your writing out into the world, and authors are seizing those opportunities, and profiting from them too.

But I’ve got to say that if I ever manage to finish that difficult second novel, I’ll be choosing the traditional route to publication. And I’m going to slaughter a sacred cow and hazard a guess that some self published authors would agree with me. here are three good reasons why.

1. You don’t have to produce your own book.

Why did you become a writer? My guess is that you wanted to tell stories and find an audience for them. Developing your stories to a degree that will make people want to read them takes 100% of your effort. Yet for a self published author, that’s just the beginning. They then have to format, design, produce and distribute their own book. To me, that’s like expecting artists to produce their own canvas, or musicians to produce their own instruments. If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will carry that financial and logistical burden for you, and let you get on with the business of being a writer.

 2. You get on the shelves

When my first novel was published, I was amazed at the extent to which, in this digital age, people expected it to be available on bookshelves. That’s why I believe that despite the availability and popularity of e-readers, if you’re not in bookshops, it’ll seriously damage your sales. Self published authors are at a huge disadvantage here, because it’s next to impossible to get your book into a bookshop on any significant scale using your own resources. Traditional publishers will put you in front of your reading public by ensuring your book is distributed using the major book distributors in your area.

 3. You get kudos

Being accepted by a traditional publisher means your book will be taken more seriously. You’re a lot more likely to be reviewed in national papers and to be put forward for awards. If you’re applying for arts council funding, your self published book is less likely to be considered as a viable publication. If your book is being traditionally published, it means that someone who knows what they’re talking about when it comes to books thinks your book is worthy of publication. Call it snobbery, but that still carries weight in certain circles.

Do you fly the flag for self publishing or for traditional publishing? Let me know your thoughts. I’m expecting some lively debate!