To celebrate our first Children's Poetry Writing Competition we wanted to find out a little more about how kids (and grown ups!) can get inspired to start writing creatively, so we chatted to award-winning children's author and MB&C seller Suzanne Hemming.
Suzanne is the brains behind children's rhyming books She's Not Good For A Girl, She's Just Good and How Frank Helped Hank and a fitting judge for our poetry writing competition! Here, she shares the inspiration and process behind her wonderful rhyming books along with her 5 top tips for starting to write creatively.
MB: Why did you decide to write rhyming books for children?
SH: I wanted to write children’s books because I knew there were so many important messages we need to change for our children, and story books are a great way of teaching, and starting conversations. Plus, of course teachers always say that the most important gift we can give to a child is to encourage a love of reading. I knew I wanted to write in rhyme because that has always been my favourite kind of book to read to my daughter Thea. When she was tiny we read a lot of Julia Donaldson whose rhymes are always beautiful. There’s a real musicality to her work, and I did read once that she was a performer and songwriter before becoming an author, so it makes sense that her stories would have that lyrical flow to them. Also I think when we read in rhyme it stays with us, in the same way that pop songs do! Those favourite songs from when we first discovered music, those lyrics will be in our brains for ever! So if there are some messages intertwined in my rhyming stories, then hopefully they will stay with children.
MB: Do you have a favourite poem or poet who you take inspiration from?
SH: I don’t know if I have a favourite poet, or poem, but one I really do love is called Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou. It rejects the idea that we, particularly women have to be a certain way, and encourages us to embrace ourselves just as we are. Because we are phenomenal! And it leads me to think of a verse from my second book, The Queen Engineer: Whoever you are and whatever you do, the important thing is to always be you.
MB: Do you find writing helps you to express yourself?
SH: Yes I love writing! Even if I’m not writing stories I’ve always found writing something down is a great way to work through it. I wish I had the discipline to journal everyday because I know it would be so good for me. But life is busy right, so instead I just jot things down as and when and that helps too. When my daughter Thea writes, she writes like she talks, so it’s very expressive. She really enjoys reading it aloud and sharing her story. But I see her really express herself when she draws. She could draw for hours and hours. Maybe she’ll be my illustrator one day!
MB: How do you come to write your books?
SH: I don’t know if I have a process! When I have an idea I make a note of it somewhere, quite often in the notes section of my phone. Ideas have a habit of popping into your head at the most random of times! Once I’ve sat with that idea for a while, simple rhymes will come to me and I’ll start to jot them down. I don’t put any time pressure on myself, so I don’t sit at a desk for say, 5 hours each day or anything. When it happens it happens and I just keep adding to it, and editing it, until it starts to take some shape and feels like there’s really a story there. So maybe I do have a process after all!
MB:What would be your top 5 tips for someone who wants to start to write creatively?
1. Just Start!
Just pick up a pencil and a piece of paper, and write anything down that comes to mind. The more you write the more you enjoy it.
2. Practise makes progress!
I learned that phrase recently and I just love it. Because the more we do something the better we become at it, and the better we become the more we enjoy it!
Teachers always talk to children about self-editing their work, check for spellings, full stops, have you used the best adjectives, could you use a different adverb to make it more interesting for the reader? It’s the same when writing poetry and stories. Keep self-editing: what can you change? What could you do differently or better?
4. Read other people’s work
Read as much as you possibly can! We learn so much from other writers, and we can be so inspired by them.
5. Enjoy it!
Write for fun! Write to make yourself smile, to laugh. Do it for you. If it makes you happy to write, that happiness will shine from the page and make others happy too!
To give creative writing a go, your minis can enter our Children's Poetry Writing Competition. Every entrant will receive a certificate and there are some wonderful prizes for the winning entries, which will be judged by a panel featuring author Suzanne Hemming.
Discover Suzanne's award-winning rhyming children's books in our Read & Write section on the store, plus you can shop her peg doll craft kit, inspirational print and activity book to extend your play beyond the storybooks. To find out more about author and founder of Thea Chops Books, Suzanne Hemming, read A Day In The Life of Suzanne Hemming and Mama Brown Meets... Suzanne Hemming on our online magazine.