Speaking of the UK…

v0_masterLast week I was talking about some really great news coming out of England about how they were using field trips to help improve children’s writing skills. One of the things that I noticed, of course, in reading about the places they took the students, of course, was that they were taking them to places that were very different from where we’d take kids here. In England, there are castles and churches that are literally a thousand years old!

Of course, in Canada we have some amazing historical sites as well, but I have to admit I love the fact that in Europe, you can so easily visit all the sites I’ve read about in my favourite books, and so many of them are perfectly preserved and almost exactly as they were.

And that’s why I decided to set the novel I’m currently working on in medieval Scotland, in the time of Robert the Bruce. Even though the events of the book would have taken place hundreds and hundreds of years ago, when you research the time period there is so much information out there. There’s such a rich historical record that I don’t have to guess what structures looked like, because many of them are still there! With all the research I did, I really started to be able to imagine what it would be like to live in that world.

Do you have a particular time period or place that connects with you?

Opening up the world of writing to kids.

childrens-writing-SATsA while back I talked about how a trip to Cuba had really inspired me, and how travelling in general really motivates me to want to write more. Well, it looks like it’s not just adults who benefit from new experiences when it comes to improving their writing. Some new studies from England are showing that the writing skills of kids who go on memorable field trips at school improve dramatically.

Schools participated in a program called “Improving Writing Quality,” where children were taken on day trips to exciting venues like zoos, castles, caves, for example. Afterwards they would have sessions where they’d write about the experience. Then they tracked their writing skills over nine months, and guess what?  Dramatic improvements!

This is great news, and I’m excited to read it. I really hope that schools here in Canada will follow England’s lead on this one. Because I think one of the most important things to remember when it comes to education, is that not everything can be learned from a book. And even if it can be learned in a book, imagine how much more exciting the learning process is if you actually get to see and experience the things you’re reading about!

And the more experiences children have, the more of the world they’re exposed to, the more their imaginations will grow, they more their horizons will broaden. So if you really want to do your children or grandchildren a favour, share an adventure with them! Not only will you have the pleasure of spending quality time with them, but you’ll be helping to improve their futures. And who knows, you may be helping to create the next J.K. Rowling!

Self-publishing gets a boost!

selfublishI read something pretty interesting in the news today. It looks like a university in England has created a master’s degree in self-publishing! I was just as surprised as I’m sure you are!

And as someone who self-publishes, I was pretty excited to read this. And the article explains why. We are constantly having to defend ourselves to authors who are already established in the industry. And that’s the main point: the people who are most critical of it (Jeffrey Archer, Sue Grafton in this article) are already published, and they’re always going to be published. I wonder if they would have said the same thing back when they were starting out? I have my doubts!

Because anyone who knows how publishing works, knows that having a good story to tell is only a small part of the battle in getting your book to print. Part of it is about timing—what’s most popular in book sales and what the editor at the time is interested in. A ton of it is about who you know. And a big chunk of it nowadays is having people know who you are. More and more often editors aren’t willing to take a chance on an unknown—and that’s so sad! Just think of all the wonderful stories we might be missing out on because all the big publishers are busy concentrating on people who already have ten or twenty traditionally published books under their belts.

And really, that’s why I decided to self-publish. My first book, An Elk in the House, was published traditionally. But when it came to other manuscripts, people kept telling me I had great stories, but that they just weren’t the right fit, and that I wasn’t well-known enough. So it certainly wasn’t because I didn’t want to work hard. Because I can tell you, self-publishing is really hard work.

Now I’m not sure whether an entire post-graduate degree dedicated to just that is really the best way to spend your valuable tuition money. Or why exactly you’d want a degree in self-publishing—I would think that if you’re already going to go to university for that long, maybe you’d want to spend that time writing and improving your craft! But either way, I’m glad to see that academic institutions are understanding the value of self-publishing.