Do you dream of penning the next big kids' book? Love reading to your children and think you could write something they and other young bookworms would love? We're thrilled to welcome Irfan Master, award-winning author and judge of this year's Jhalak Children's & YA Prize, to give us his top tips on writing for children, so whether you're already halfway through your masterpiece or have yet to start the first page, there'll be something here to inspire and guide your work.
Irfan Master's debut novel, A Beautiful Lie, was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's book prize and the Branford Boase award for debut authors and translated into 10 languages. His second novel for young adults, Out of Heart was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and UKLA award. Irfan's short fiction has also been published in numerous anthologies, most recently in The Cuckoo Cage (2022), Resist (Comma press, 2019), The Good Journal (2019) and the award winning, A Change is Gonna Come (Stripes, 2017). In 2019 he contributed an article highlighting the importance of greater representation in literature for young people that featured in Breaking New Ground, a round-up of British writers of colour produced by BookTrust and Speaking Volumes.
Read more about Irfan and this year's other judges.
ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS
Where do ideas come from? Usually, an idea forms as a question. For example, what if a group of boys crash land on a deserted island? How would they survive? Could they organise themselves? What happens next? Questions give you a quick way in. You might not be able to answer all the questions you pose, but you'll find that the questions worth asking will demand answers, and just like that, you'll have a what or a why and a when and a where.
All language has a rhythm, and children and young adults often have their own vocabulary and patterns of speech. This could be repeating phrases, or slang or specific speech from a region or country. Often, reading on a page will seem fine, but once the words are read aloud, you'll find where the pauses are, or if a sentence is a little too long, or if a word feels clunky. This is particularly true when writting dialogue where you can hear if the dialouge feels like something a child might say. Reading aloud will make your writing feel more natural and authentic.
WRITING FOR CHILDREN DOESN'T NEED TO BE SIMPLE
Writing for children/YA doesn't mean simple writing. Children are pretty resilient and instinctively know more about the world than adults give them credit for. Children and young adults are able to to pick up meaning through context. They can read a ghost story that is about grief and still enjoy the setting, characters and action. A good story can be about many things at the same time, as well as being a great read.
DON'T WRITE FOR THE MARKET
But don't entirely ignore it either. When I pitched my first novel, A Beautiful Lie, a story set in India about a boy and his father on the cusp of Partition in 1947, it was hardly a trending topic (it still isn't but I feel it should be!), but it was important to me to write it. The key was writing a familiar story with universal themes, in this case, a boy telling a lie to protect his father that leads to another lie and so on. Trends come and go, but stories written with deep feeling will always find a reader.
READ CHILDREN'S BOOKS
It seems simple doesn't it? Good writing advice usually is. There is no better source for writing tips than a well crafted book. Reading lots of books will give you a feel for different types of stories, characters and settings. Often all this "learning" will not be obvious. In fact, a lot of it will lie dormant for months, sometimes years, but once you start writing in earnest, you will find you know what makes a good protagonist or an anti-hero or you can instinctively feel how a plot might unfold or how to bring all the strand together in a memorable ending. Read your favourite author's books. Read outside of your comfort zone. Read lots of them. Read, read, read!
About this year's Jhalak Prize and Jhalak Children's & YA Prize