For World Book Day, we spoke to author James Bailey who shared his writing tips for pupils participating in QEH's writing competition.
James attended QEH between 2003-2010, and returned to work at the school in the Development Office between 2018-2022. His debut novel The Flip Side was published in 2020 by Penguin Michael Joseph in the UK, by William Morrow in the USA, and in a dozen foreign languages, becoming an instant Apple Books bestseller along the way. The novel has been optioned for TV and is currently in development. His second novel The Way Back to You was published in 2022, and tells the story of three teenagers who escape their Bristol boarding school to go in search of their French penpal.
James' four tips:
1) WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.
Something will happen to you this week which could be included in a story. It may not be a seismic event, but there will be a moment (whether sad, funny, happy, or embarrassing) that can be mined for your work. Maybe it’s as simple as finding someone else’s scribblings in a library book, or scoring a great goal at Failand. Likewise, be observant. Watch other people, listen to their conversations, read the news. Maybe there’s an article about archaeologists seeking a lost treasure, or a Manchester United player getting injured ahead of a key match. These may seem insignificant, but there is inspiration everywhere. Use a diary or your phone’s Notes app to jot down scenarios you experience or witness.
2: WHAT IF?
Take these events you experience or witness, combine them, and now ask yourself what if?
What if the scribblings you found in the library book contained a map to this lost treasure?
What if a Manchester United scout happened to be watching your football game at Failand?
This is the fun part where you can play around with time, location, reality/fantasy, and grow these seemingly small incidents into something exciting.
We now have two ideas, but all stories need an obstacle - so the character can grow, develop, and overcome whatever’s in their way.
What is stopping your character finding the treasure? Maybe their arch-enemy loaned out the book the previous week, and already has a head-start?
What is stopping your character play for Man Utd? Maybe the reason they scored the wonder goal was the lucky boots they were wearing, which subsequently go missing?
Keep thinking of scenarios until you find one which excites you.
4. ONE SENTENCE
The best stories can often be summarised in one sentence. (Character+their world+their goal+their obstacle).
For example: A young wizard adjusts to a new school while attempting to keep an artefact out of the hands of the evil Lord Voldemort.
Or for our examples…
A schoolgirl discovers a treasure map in a library book, but she has to race against her enemy if she wants to find where it’s hidden in Bristol.
A schoolboy is plucked from obscurity to play for Manchester United in the cup final, but will he be able to perform when his lucky boots go missing?
Once you have your sentence, you can now grow and expand this into a full-blown plot.
Maybe the schoolgirl is at risk of being expelled if she gets into trouble again? Maybe her parents want her to concentrate on her exams rather than this hunt? Maybe she fancies the boy who offers to help her?
Maybe the schoolboy has to search for his lucky boots before the final? Maybe his lucky boots actually belong to one of his friends? Maybe he realises that he doesn’t need the boots after all?
Good luck, and enjoy writing your story!
A huge thank you to James for getting involved and sharing his tips. If you want to hear more from James, make sure to follow him on his website https://www.jamesbaileywrites.com/
We also spoke to writers Adam Macqueen, Ashley Pharoah, and Martin Bright. Check out their tips in the News section.
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