Writing For Kids: How To Time Travel To The Past

Writing For Kids: How To Time Travel To The Past

In the latest addition to the Writing For Kids series, Claire Saxby looks at setting stories in the past.

Claire’s latest novel Haywire is set in 1939 in the NSW town of Hay.

It’s about 14-year-old Tom, whose family runs the local bakery, and Max Gruber, nearly 14, who is interred and shipped to Australia, ending up in Hay.

When the two boys meet, they become friends, and find their lives influenced by a far-away conflict in Europe.

It sounds exciting, doesn’t it? But when you’re writing about a particular period in history, it’s important to get the details right.

Here, Claire Saxby outlines her five top tips for ‘time travelling’ to the past.

How to time travel to the past 

When I was writing my novel Haywire, I did lots of research about what it was like to live in 1939-1940, when the story is set.

I wanted to know what would have been the same, and what was different. I wanted to know about the houses and the clothes, the food and what the streets looked like.

One tricky question I had when writing Haywire was, ‘How did they make toast?’ (Answer: they used a pan on the stove top). It’s these details that help the reader dive into our story worlds. I found my answers in lots of places.

So how can you find those details for your stories? Strap yourself in and lets go time-travelling!

Tip 1. Look at old photos

Do you have family photo albums? Are they just your close family or are there also albums of your grandparents or their grandparents? Look at their haircuts. Look at the clothes they’re wearing. They’re so different!

If you’re lucky there’ll be some ‘action’ photos. Maybe someone is riding a bike, or a horse. Maybe they’re at a picnic, or swimming at a beach, or on a holiday. Check these photos for background details. What can you see that’s different to now?

Look out for cars. Making stories is about imagining what might happen, what could happen. Imagine sitting in a car from the past. What would the seats feel like? What would the engine sound like? Would you be in the back seat, or the driver’s seat? Now, there’s a story. Where would you go?

Tip 2. Things were different in the past

Food was much simpler, with only a few different vegetables. Hardly anyone ate pasta or rice – can you believe it?

The toilet was outside. There was no air-conditioning inside (except windows). Most houses had a fireplace. There was no television. The radio was bigger than a television. There were no pop-up toasters. How would you cook toast?

Tip 3. Things were just the same

I know what I just said, but this is also true. Some things don’t change.

Tom, in my story, has two brothers and two sisters. His older brothers teach him how to climb trees and play cricket. His older sister helps him with maths. He gives his younger sister shoulder rides and teaches her to climb trees. He doesn’t love homework. The family all eat dinner together.

Tom does the same sorts of things you might do today.

Think about the things you do with your family. Would you be able to do them in the time-travelled past? What might you do instead?

Tip 4: Talk to your family

Everyone. Your parents, aunties and uncles, grandparents, even the neighbours.

Some of them might tell you that time travel is impossible, but just you get them started – you’ll soon be time-travelling all over the place, back to their childhoods!

Ask an aunty or uncle about what your parents were like when they were your age. They’ll soon be introducing you to someone you could never have imagined.

Who could jump the highest?

Who had the best excuse for not tidying their room or helping in the kitchen?

Who was the last to finish dinner?

Who was the best at spitting cherry pips?

You’ll be amazed!

Tip 5: When you’re planning your story, think about WHEN it happens

Let’s say your story problem is about losing a ball.

If you set your story in your backyard today, it will be different to if the story happened yesterday.

Maybe it was windy yesterday and the ball flew over the fence into the backyard of grumpy neighbour, whereas today the ball goes through the window. Oh-oh!

What if you time-travelled back 50 years? Was your house even built then? Perhaps there were no houses near where you are. What was there? Trees? Bushes? So now your character has to find their ball in the bush.

Or maybe it’s millions of years ago and the lost ball is picked up by a dinosaur!

Okay so we’d have to time-travel a long time to meet a dinosaur. But why not?

In writing Haywire, I based my story on something that really happened during WWII and I had to stay as close to the truth as I could (so no dinosaurs).

But you don’t. You can write about anything and include anything you want to.

Time-travelling to the past might be the start of your greatest adventure. Give it a go!

Claire Saxby is a writer, bookseller and bookreader. You can find out more about Claire here, and more about her latest book Haywire here.

You might also like:

Where To Find Ideas

How to write funny stories

5 top tips for creating a page-turning story

Writing tips for kids: 3 short videos




Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher. You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

If you’d like more writing tips and advice, why not check out my online creative writing course for kids 9-14! You’ll find it here

Writing For Kids: 5 top tips for creating a page-turning story

Writing For Kids: 5 top tips for creating a page-turning story

I get very excited every time I receive a new post for the Writing For Kids series because I learn something new from every post.

They might be writing tips aimed at kids, but they’re actually brilliant for writers of any age. After all, these are writing tips from some of Australia’s top children’s authors!

This week, Sue Whiting is taking time out from launching her brand-new book – The Book Of Chance – to share her 5 best tips for creating a page-turning story. If you’ve ever read any of Sue’s work – from picture books, through middle-grade fiction, to YA stories – you’ll know that these are tips worth reading.

5 top tips for creating a page-turning story

Don’t you love a book that keeps you up late at night? Turning the pages quickly, heart pumping and eyes flying across the page? I certainly do.

When I write, this is what I’m aiming for too – a thrilling, page-turning story, full of nail-biting suspense. One to keep my readers up late at night to find out what is going to happen next.

So here are my top tips for creating these page-turning stories.


In order for readers to keep turning the pages and go on a story journey with your characters, readers must firstly CARE about them. Deeply.

They must worry for them. They must empathise with them. And the best way to achieve this is to show how your characters are FEELING and what they are THINKING.

These insights into the hearts and minds of your characters are all-important, if you want your readers to care.

2.     BE A MEANIE

Writing stories is the one time in your life when you get to be a big bad meanie.

In fact, if you want your readers to turn the pages, you HAVE to be MEAN. It is your DUTY as the boss of your story.

After all, stories are all about characters getting into trouble (and getting out of trouble). So YOU are responsible. It is up to you to create that trouble – big trouble – trouble that will make your readers fret and frown and twist their hands with worry.

So be MEAN to your characters and make their lives as DIFFICULT as possible.


As the boss of your story, it is important that you know what your characters want – to find a lost friend, to catch the bad guy, to discover the miracle cure etc.

It is also important that the CONSEQUENCES if your characters are unsuccessful are HUGE: DIRE, DISASTROUS, DEVASTATING.

So as well as being mean, you must make the STAKES HIGH. This will ensure a thrilling story, where your readers’ hearts will be pounding, and you will have them worrying all the more – and, yes, you guessed it, turning those pages quickly.


This might sound contradictory. I don’t mean make your story slow; what I mean is that you should try to keep a few SECRETS and SURPRISES up your sleeve, a few unexpected TWISTS and TURNS that you REVEAL slowly throughout the story.

These unexpected twists and surprises slotted in at just the right moment, when your readers least expect them, will make them think, Uh-oh. I didn’t see that coming. I need to read the next chapter now!


Telling stories is very similar to telling lies. And the best way to tell a lie is to make sure it is as close as possible to the truth.

The same goes for stories.

If you want your readers to keep turning those pages, then you need to make your story CONVINCING. And the way to achieve that is to pepper in as much TRUTH – specific details, authentic emotions – as you can in order to make your story, no matter how fantastical, CREDIBLE and BELIEVABLE.

This is a sure way to hook your readers and to keep them reading.

Happy writing everyone!

Sue Whiting has written many books in a variety of genres: fiction and nonfiction, picture books through to YA. Her latest book is The Book Of Chance, for middle-grade readers, out now through Walker Books Australia.

More writing tips for kids

How To Write Funny Stories

How To Create Remarkable Characters

Write What You Love

Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher.

You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

If you’d love more writing advice for kids, check out my Online Creative Writing Quest For Kids

Writing For Kids: Where To Find Ideas

Writing For Kids: Where To Find Ideas

Writing For Kids: How to find ideasA 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.

How To Create Remarkable Characters

Write What You Love

How To Be More Creative

How To Write Funny Stories

Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher.

My new novel, The Fire Star (A Maven & Reeve Mystery, is out on
1 September 2020.

You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

I’ve got an online writing course just for kids aged 9-14. You can find out more about it here. 

Writing For Kids: How to write funny stories

Writing For Kids: How to write funny stories

Writing tips for kids: How to write funny stories | allisontait.comLast year, I wrote my first-ever funny story for publication in Total Quack Up Again, an anthology of funny stories in support of Dymock’s Children’s Charities. Regular readers might remember this post about the experience.

One of the editors of the anthology was Adrian Beck who, along with Sally Rippin, did a brilliant job of assembling a line-up of some of Australia’s top children’s authors to donate a story for the project, as well as writing his own.

So when it came time to find someone to write me a guest post full of amazing tips for kids who want to write funny stories, Adrian was my go-to guy.

As well as his work with Quack Up, Adrian writes funny action-packed adventure stories for kids, the latest of which is Derek Dool Super Cool: Bust A Move, the first in a brand new series, illustrated by Scott Edgar, about a kid who is desperate to be SUPERCOOL.

If anyone knows how to find the funny, it’s Adrian Beck.

Just read his tips and you’ll see…


Okay, so you’ve decided to write a comedic masterpiece. All of us are funny in our own way, right? As an added bonus, some of us are also funny looking (I’m a redhead, for instance), so this whole thing should be a cinch!

Well, yes.

But also NO!

But also YES, especially if you follow my nine and a half tips for FINDING the FUNNY!

1. Reveal your deepest darkest secrets! And use them in your stories. That’s the thing about writing – you can pretend that you just ‘made it all up’, when secretly it’s based on reality.

Did you know that Jacqueline Harvey is actually a seven-year old-girl in boarding school, or that Hazel Edwards keeps a hippo on her roof or that Andy Griffith’s bum really does go psycho?

Think of the most embarrassing things that have ever happened to you. Remember how they made you feel. Then exaggerate!

2. Put yourself in a funny mood. Read other funny books, listen to funny music and watch funny TV shows.

When I was writing the first Derek Dool book, I listened to 1980s band Madness nonstop. Their songs like, ‘Baggy Trousers’ and ‘House of Fun’ always get me in a silly mood. (Well, sillier mood).

Plus, I binge-watched some of my favourite 1990s British sitcoms. All just to stay in the ‘funny zone’… And so that I can claim Netflix on tax.

3. I’ve come up with a totally original theory that I like to call the Big Bang Theory. I should trademark it. The gist is, you’ve got to start with a big bang! Set the tone early with a strong joke that indicates the style of the story to come. Forget all the flowery scene setting stuff.

Then, once you’ve started with a bang, keep the jokes coming. Most sitcoms try to include around six jokes a minute. I keep this in mind when rewriting and I try to maintain regular laughs. As most doctors will tell you, it’s good to stay regular.

4. Don’t be too cool for school. Funny stories don’t tend to get the praise that other stories get. So abandon all ambitions to win prizes. You’ll probably never be seen as the literary genius you truly are. But that’s okay. This means you can loosen up!

Therefore, why not embrace sound effects? Here are three hilarious noises you can use free of charge: Pffffffft! Rrrrrrreeep! Ffffwhoooooootha-plop!

5. Avoid bad adult advice! I call that BADult advice. Most adults are BORING! They wear long pants and think too much about mortgages and avoiding carbohydrates. Sometimes it’s best NOT to listen to them. Adults don’t have the same sense of humour as kids.

So go straight to the source and test your work on your target audience. They are always refreshingly honest.

6. Read it aloud. To kids if possible (see tip 5). There’s no better way to check if something is working than hearing it with your own ears. If possible, it’s even better to get someone to read it to you, like David Walliams. Although he can make most things sound funny so always take his performances with a grain of salt.

7. Create a kooky character. Now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty. Whatever that is. But, trust me, it will make your funny story easier to write if you come up with an extreme character.

Then use the tried-and-true device of a putting your character at odds with their situation. Make it the opposite to the norm. Eg a doctor who hates the sight of blood, a teacher who can’t stand kids, or a writer who makes lots of money.

8. Steal. Your friends have probably told you a story or two about the funny things that have happened to them. STEAL THESE STORIES!

But… and this is a big BUT (cos I like big buts and I cannot lie) change the story enough so that you make it your own.

Have a think about why their anecdote made you laugh and try to use that formula again and again.

9. Trust your first reaction. Once you’ve read something over and over you can begin to forget that it’s funny. You start questioning yourself: ‘Is this joke actually making me laugh?’ ‘Am I funny at all?’ ‘Would I like fries with that?’

These questions are not helpful. You ARE funny. Accept it. And you WOULD like fries with that.

9.5. Lastly, always – and as a redhead I cannot stress this enough – always wear sunscreen.

Now you have my nine and a half tips for FINDING the FUNNY, go forth and write your masterpiece! All I ask is that you please spell my name correctly in your dedication.

Derek Dool Supercool: Bust A Move by Adrian Beck (illustrated by Scott Edgar) is out on 3 March through Puffin Books.

Find out more about Adrian Beck here. 

More writing tips for kids:

How to create remarkable characters

How to be more creative

The secret to a great story

Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher.

You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here. If you’d like to learn more about writing from me, have a look at my Creative Writing Quest For Kids, an online course that takes you through the process of writing a great story from start to finish.

12 writing books for teen writers

12 writing books for teen writers

12 writing books for teen writers | allisontait.comLast week I found myself compiling a list of books about writing for a young writer I know. She’s 15, enthusiastic, stymied by the parameters of writing for school assignments, hungry for information, encouragement and advice.

I tried to give her book suggestions that would open up the world of writing for her, beyond those school assignments, give her some craft tips in a not-too-serious way, and also, perhaps, take her writing into different areas.

Some of them are personal recommendations, some of them are Book Boy‘s recommendations, and some of them are recommendations from authors I’ve interviewed on the podcast.

It occurred to me that there are probably a lot of teen writers out there just like her, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to share my list.

So here it is (click on the title to read more about each book or to buy at Booktopia). Just in time for the holidays.

12 books about writing for teen writers

On Writing by Stephen King

This is my favourite book about writing, hands down, and Book Boy (15) loved it, too. You can read his review here. Half-memoir, half-writing craft, it’s a no-nonsense page-turner about writing.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day.

We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.

Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” – Anne Lamott

I first read those words about 20 years ago and they perfectly sum up, for me, the process of getting a book written. One word, one page, at a time. It’s another memoir/writing book combined, with a lot of inspiration and motivation in its pages.

Writing Down The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

This one comes recommended by international bestselling children’s author Andy Griffiths, who talked about it at length in episode 65 of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast.

Here’s a snippet from the interview with Andy Griffiths:

“I discovered a book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, who was very keen on writers putting the hours in and putting the practice in. She has a method of time writing practice, which was to write non-stop on any subject without editing, without thinking, without trying to control it – just get words on the page for a five-minute period and then repeat it again and again and again.

“That allows you to access your subconscious without the editing function getting in the way, going, ‘Well, that’s a bit silly,’ or, ‘That’s a bit rude,’ or, ‘That’s not appropriate, as if bums could grow arms and legs. Let’s get onto something a bit more realistic.’ You need to escape that voice when you’re getting the raw material on the page. You bring it in later to edit what you’ve done and to tidy it up. But, too often it’s fused at the creation stage, so people are very timid and very restricted in what they feel they can write.”

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Another book that is often recommended on the podcast. Children’s author Tristan Bancks, for instance, is a big fan, and talked about it in episode 201, as did children’s author Jen Storer, in episode 98. If you ever hear people talking about doing their ‘morning pages’, you can bet they’ve read this book. It’s a great way to encourage teens to keep a journal.

The Writing Book: A Workbook for Fiction Writers by Kate Grenville

I have a tattered and ancient copy of this book, which was the first book on writing I ever bought for myself (I was probably about 20 or 21 at the time). I love this one because it is practical, hands-on and Australian. I have given it to Book Boy, as much to help with his English assessments as his writing. For detailed, accessible information about point of view, dialogue and other techniques, it’s a winner.

Everything I Know About Writing by John Marsden

This was published in 1998 and I have only just discovered its existence (I know, where have I been?). I promptly bought a copy for Book Boy (okay, for me) as everything John Marsden knows about writing is surely worth reading. I am hoping Book Boy will review it once he’s read it, and I’ll edit this post with the review once it’s available.


The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking The Poet Within by Stephen Fry

I bought this one for Book Boy, who loved it (see his thoughts here), finding it equal parts instruction and entertainment.

Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve just bought this one for Book Boy after it was recommended to me as a terrific book on creativity. In this post on Medium by Chris Castiglione, it’s described thus:

“In 1903 Franz Kappus (a 17-year-old student) wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (27 years old) asking his advice on becoming a writer.

The book is a collection of Rilke’s replies over a series of ten letters. In the letters Rilke beautifully articulates advice on topics of creativity, dealing with criticism, inspiration, love, life, and loneliness.”

Grammar & Punctuation

The Elements Of Style (Strunk and White)

Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Punctuation matters. I’m sorry, but it does. As I tell kids when I do author talks and workshops, ‘think of it as a toolkit to help readers decode your words. You want them to get the message exactly as you intended, not some weird, cryptic guess.’

These two books take different approaches to the same subject – S&W is the classic, ESL is the contemporary – but every teen writer should have at least one.


Save The Cat by Blake Snyder

Billing itself as ‘the last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need’, this was the first book on screenwriting I ever read and I found it invaluable for writing fiction of any kind. As a bonus, it helps to watch the movies that are mentioned in the book, so offers hours of useful procrastination as well. Teens will find it very readable and really helpful for learning about the structure of stories.

Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo

There are now two volumes of this collection with this one, the first, being the classic edition, featuring songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, k. d. lang and more. The second volume (More Songwriters On Songwriting) includes Patti Miller, James Taylor, Elvis Costello, Loretta Lynn and more.

I bought the first one for Book Boy, who writes his own songs, and have enjoyed dipping in an out of it myself for the insight into the creative process of some of the world’s best songwriters.

So there you have it. Some books for teens about writing*. Have you or your teens got any recommendations to add? Please share them in the comments!


So You Want To Be A Writer book by Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo*You will note that I didn’t put So You Want To Be A Writer, my new book with Valerie Khoo, on this list. The main reason for that is that, at 15, my young writer friend is still in that beautiful space of having time to write, think, and explore the craft of writing.

So You Want To Be A Writer is a book about deciding on the kind of writer you want to be, making it work outside a day job (to begin with), approaching writing as a business, making it fit within your life, getting in touch with your creativity, getting the words written. I will give it to my 15-year-old friend in a few years, as a high-school graduation gift. Buy it here for yourself or someone you know.

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