A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reading Kate Simpson‘s new picture book, Anzac Girl: The War Diaries Of Alice Ross-King. And if you follow any of my social media platforms, you’ll know it was a real pleasure – I shared it everywhere!
It’s a very beautiful book, illustrated by Jess Racklyeft, which manages to tell a complex and emotional story within the picture book format (no mean feat!). All the feels in this one, which is aimed at readers 7+.
It’s also a very personal story for Kate, who is the great-granddaughter of Alice Ross-King.
Today, Kate has popped in to share her writing tips for kids who might be wondering just where ideas for stories come from…
Where To Find Ideas (They Might Be Closer Than You Think)
“I’d like to write stories, but I don’t really have any ideas.” Sound familiar?
This was me, age 10. And age 12. And age 28. Right up until my thirties I believed that I couldn’t be a writer because I didn’t have any good ideas. But here’s the thing: it turns out that good ideas can be anywhere.
In fact, some of the best ideas can be a lot closer to home than you think.
Tip 1: Embrace your family
My picture book Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King is the story of my great-grandmother, a nurse who left Melbourne to go to war and became the most decorated woman in Australia.
There was a famous war hero in my own family – a hero who was a woman at a time when heroes (at least according to the history books) were mostly men – but I didn’t have any good ideas for writing stories.
I know what you’re thinking: “This is all great for you, but what if I don’t have an actual war hero in my family?” I get it, but hear me out.
My first question is: have you ever asked? Speak to the oldest members of your family and you might be surprised at the stories they have to tell.
Secondly, it’s not really about that. The thing about families is that for the most part, they’re kind of weird. Families are where people let out all their best (sometimes), worst (often) and weirdest (if you’re lucky) behaviour.
If you have a big family, it’s also likely to be full of people you might not meet in other parts of life.
That uncle who writes angry letters to the local paper and then reads them all out in chronological order over Christmas lunch? Put him in a story.
Your second cousin who won $10,000 playing the flute through her nose at a talent quest? A writer’s dream.
So bring out the family album (check out the 1980s section if you’d like a good laugh) and get creating.
Tip 2: Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story
So you’ve been to your aunt’s best friend’s son’s bar mitzvah and you’ve come home full of great ideas. My next tip is: don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.
While using a real event as a story starter is a great way to get the creative juices flowing, remember that you’re free to embellish any way you like. This works particularly well for embarrassing events that happened to you.
Change a few details, name the main character after your least favourite cousin and nobody will ever know where you got the inspiration.
And if you’ve trawled your entire family history and the most exciting thing anyone ever did was mix a red sock in with a load of white sheets, then this rule goes double.
Is there a lizard living at the bottom of your backyard? What if it was a 1 metre long goanna and it snuck into your brother’s room while he was asleep?
Is there a gum tree behind your house? What if it was 100 metres high? What might you find at the top?
Think about all the things you did today and apply a bit of “what if?”. Then sit down and write about it.
Tip 3: Tune into your feelings
Don’t forget that stories don’t have to be exciting.
“What?” I hear you say.
Okay, but listen.
Stories need to be interesting. They need to make people want to turn the pages. But they don’t need to involve car chases, monsters or even one metre long goannas.
One of my favourite children’s book series is Beverly Cleary’s ‘Ramona‘ books. These books are about kids living ordinary lives – going to school, arguing with their families, making friends. No dragons, no aliens, no criminal gangs.
But Beverly Cleary is one of the USA’s most famous children’s authors. Why? Because the people who read her books understand exactly what Ramona and her friends are feeling on every page.
Have you ever wanted something really badly, and didn’t get it?
Have you ever wished you could be just like the popular kids in school?
Have you ever felt embarrassed or sad or scared?
If you can write about that and write it honestly, you will have written one of the best types of stories of all.
Kate Simpson is a picture book author, bookworm and co-host of One More Page podcast.
Anzac Girl: The War Diaries Of Alice Ross-King, written by Kate Simpson and illustrated by Jess Racklyeft, is out now.
Want more writing tips for kids? Try these.
My new novel, The Fire Star (A Maven & Reeve Mystery, is out on
1 September 2020.
I’ve got an online writing course just for kids aged 9-14. You can find out more about it here.