Thursday, December 13, 2012

Letter to Year 4

I've been hanging out on twitter (where all the worst people waste all their best time) and a teacher (Mr Walker) asked whether I could write an email to his Year 4 class. So I did. Here's what I wrote:



I’m a writer. But I wasn’t always a writer. At school I was a bit of a muppet, then I became a university student (which I was OK at if you include all the fun stuff), then I became a musician (which is what I’d always wanted to be, apart from a bit of a muppet).

For a year or so I wrote songs for other people to sing and I wrote music for films, TV shows and plays. Mainly plays. I was pretty good at that but it was exhausting, so I often ended up on the sofa whining about how hard I was working. WHINE WHINE WHINE. I’m sure you can picture the scene. PICTURE IT. Good.

My mum had a really good way of dealing with my whining. Every time it got too WHINEY she threw a book at me. There are very few things that cannot be cured by a good smack in the brain with a book. They were usually light books, and fortunately my mum doesn’t have a very powerful throw, otherwise this would be a very different kind of story. It would be a DEATH BY BOOK/FACE IMPACT story.

Sometimes (but only occasionally) my mum threw the book at me accurately enough for me to be able to pick it up and read it. That’s a good thing to do with a book. I recommend it. This is how I read the Harry Potter books.

This was not dangerous at all for the early Harry Potter books because they’re quite light, but as the series went on the books got bigger and heavier and more deadly and my mum’s throwing was starting to get a bit too accurate for life on the sofa to be safe. So I thought I’d better get off the sofa and DO SOMETHING.

By the time I’d read all of those books that had been thrown at me, the SOMETHING that was on my mind was TELLING A STORY. I wanted to have a go. More importantly, I wanted to have a go at telling a story that had nothing to do with MAGIC or WIZARDS or WITCHES.

I like action, mystery, twists, suspense and all that good stuff. But I don’t like it when magic comes along and solves everything for a character. It feels unsatisfying. It’s cheating. The Harry Potter books kept me interested despite the problems with magic so I had a long think about how that was possible. I started trying to work out how great stories are constructed. I read more books. I watched movies. I listened to people telling stories and I tried to learn how they did it. How did they keep the audience on the edge of their seats?

Gradually I was piecing together the ideas that turned into my first book: Jimmy Coates: Killer.

It contains no magic. But it contains a huge amount of action, suspense, twists, mystery and all that juicy awesomeness.

I will now tell you how I did it and I continue to come up with ideas for new books (and films – because I write those too) in my life now:

I read.

I write without worrying about how good it is.

I deliberately write something rubbish so I can rewrite it later.

I plan out my stories so I know what the ending is before I start. Sometimes I can only work out where to start once I’ve worked out how to end.

I make sure that every day there is some time where I can just sit and do nothing. This isn’t time like I spent on my mum’s sofa whining, this is time when I’m actually doing a lot more than whining – I’m thinking. I’m letting my head wander about without restrictions and without guidance. I don’t look at my phone. I don’t have the TV on. I don’t look at stuff on the internet. I just sit there with NOTHING (except sometimes a pen and a notebook) and I challenge my imagination to come up with SOMETHING.

SOMETHING from NOTHING is what being a writer is all about. So everyday I have to find some NOTHING TIME. It’s actually my favourite part of the day (apart from breakfast which is SO COOL. I love breakfast. I mix loads of different cereals together in a secret blend that I’ve perfected over several years then I pour hot water on it - NOT MILK NEVER MILK, OK? Yeah, breakfast rocks. Sometimes I have breakfast twice then go back to bed but that’s cool because I’m a writer and I can pretty much do whatever I like.)

I will now end my ramble about my life. It has been a DELIGHT to talk to you, Mr Walker’s Year 4 class. I hope you are all having a splendid day. Be kind to each other. Smile a lot – I mean A LOT: smile more than you think any non-crazy person should ever smile. It’s a wonderful way to go through life.

And tell each other stories. Practise that for a few minutes every day. You’ll learn what keeps an audience’s attention and if you start now then by the time you’re in Year 5 you’ll be amazing at it, by the time you’re in Year 11 your teachers will think you’re some kind of genius and by the time you leave school you’ll be performing at the circus as THE AMAZING STORY-TELLING MIRACLE CHILD. Or you’ll be a writer.

Best wishes,
Joe Craig

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