Book Review: Five Nonsense Poems

I’ve recently discovered Candlestick Press, a small publisher of poetry in Nottingham, and I am so happy to have done so. The highlight of their publications is their collection of ‘cards’ for children that they make. These contain a selection of poetry to give in lieu of a traditional greetings card. After browsing in my local Waterstones, I finally picked one out to have a read.

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Out of the entire selection on the rotating rack, it’s Five Nonsense Poems that caught my eye. The striking blue of the cover along with the fun illustrations appealed to me, and with my young nephew’s upcoming birthday on my mind I just couldn’t resist.

The paper quality is fantastic. It feels great in my hands; a top quality feel of thick, textured card that tells you it’s been printed and produced by someone who cares. Inside, the pages are just thick enough so that you can’t see through them to the print on the back, with meticulous printing of the ink on each page. There’s not one mistake to be seen; the sign of a talented editor who knows exactly what they’re doing.

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I feel that I cannot comment on the actual writing within the pages, as the poems are all selected from previous works, but whoever selected them chose them well. You can’t have a selection of nonsense poems without featuring Spike Milligan, and Carol Ann Duffy’s poem is a great choice for the opening. It was a slight surprise though; I was expecting new poetry from new poets, but what is there does not disappoint. And, if I had bothered to read the blurb rather than being focussed on the cover design, I would have seen the names of all the poets in there and known.

The highlight by far though is the beautiful illustrations by Ruth Green. They’re bold and bright and just what a book of nonsense poems needs. I especially love the illustration that goes with Pauline Clarke’s poem – it’s fun and neat and looks great alongside the poem. Green’s imagination and creativity is what attracted me to the collection in the first place, and her art is the perfect fit for the poems. And, as a collection advertised as being perfect for children, it’s beautiful enough even for the youngest of readers to enjoy.

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As a present, it really is wonderful. It comes with a striking blue envelope as well as a high quality bookmark and sticker with illustrations from the collection on them. They’re a nice little touch that gives something extra to the collection. There’s even nice touches on the inside to, like a ‘to’ and ‘from’ page and a page at the back for the receiver to write their own poem or draw their own creature.

 

I really do love this collection of poetry. It makes a perfect gift for a child or an adult, and has a great quality to it that lets you know the publisher cares. The other collections look equally appealing; in fact, I might go buy the collection of cat poems now.

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3 Programmes to Help You Write

Writing a novel is a difficult process, but it’s also meant to be a fun one with a learning curve. If you’re going to be writing on your computer/laptop, there are plenty of writing programmes to choose from. We’ve picked out our favourite three, and written you a pretty swift analysis of each.

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Microsoft Word

Although it’s not made specifically for novelists, this proves to be a great tool for writing your novel. It’s probably the simplest programme and the one that you’re most familiar with using. All you do is open a new document and type, easy. No frills, no automatic chapter layout, just a simple programme where you can type your novel. Although this programme has no benefits to you as a writer, it does provide the format that most publishers require when receiving manuscript submissions. You can easily change the language setting to numerous languages (there’s even separate settings for American English and UK English) then it will highlight for you all spelling and grammatical mistakes for that language. Also, because it’s such a widely used programme, there are plenty of online tutorials to help you become an expert at using it. Still, without this advanced knowledge you can still easily type your novel, no problem.

Scrivener

Scrivener is the dream tool for writers. It’s easy to use and has many extras that will really help when it comes to writing your novel. I love that you write your novel in sections rather than as one long document, whether that’s scenes or chapters, and all of these sections are separate to each other. This is super useful, as it makes restructuring your novel easy and effortless, especially through the use of the cork board. There’s also a really useful ‘research’ section, where you can store anything and everything you have relating to your novel. This includes things like inspirational photos, PDFs full of information, and anything else that may come in handy whilst writing. As someone who uses index cards during the planning of my novels, I love that they’re a feature in Scrivener. You just create a new index card for each section and write a small synopsis on it. It’s really easy to use as a beginner, and can be really useful for planning and writing your novel. In other words, Scrivener is the bees knees. Give it a go.

Celtx

Celtx is technically a script writing programme (and is really great if you do write scripts), but I think it can also be used pretty well for novels. It’s pretty simple to use, and free to download too. You just type on the main editor, not bothering with things like pages and word counts, so you can just write without having to worry about reaching a made up target. It has a useful chapter heading tool, so every time you start a new chapter you use the tool to highlight it, then it appears in a sidebar. You can then skip to different chapters to look back at what you’ve previously written. This programme also has an index card tool, and it’s especially useful if you’re writing a story with more than one plot. There’s a selection of seven different coloured index cards, so if you’re writing the main plot you can use yellow cards, and if you’re writing about a secondary subplot you could use blue cards. I really enjoy using Celtx. Sure, its main use is for script writing, but it does have a novel writing section that is easy to use and that has useful writing tools for any novelist.

There are many other writing tools out there, all of which have different extras to help you write your novel. It’s probably worth trying quite a few of them before settling down on one; this way you’ll find the perfect tool that will help you to finish writing your novel.

Jargon Buster 2

Whenever talking about writing here at The Writers’ Den we tend to use a lot of jargon. These specialist, writing specific words help us to explain what we mean in the best way possible, and without them our posts wouldn’t make much sense. A lot of you are beginner writers though, and might not know some of these words, so here’s a list of some writing terminology and their definitions.

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Archetype: A typical example of something.

Audience: The intended readers of a writer’s work.

Backstory: The story of what happens before your novel begins.

Cliché: An expression that has been overused.

Exposition: A direct way of giving readers information that is needed for the story to make sense.

Denouement: The final part of a story, in which everything is pulled together and explained/resolved.

Dystopian Fiction: This genre is often categorised within fantasy and science fiction, and explores social and political constructs in a darker world similar to our own.

Foreshadowing: Hints that are left early on in a story to give clues to an important event that will occur later on.

Head-Hopping: This is where numerous points of views are told in one scene. This can be very hard to achieve well.

Hyperbole: A deliberate exaggeration.

Imagery: The use of language to create an image that appeals to the senses.

Indie Author: A writer who has chosen to to have complete control over the production of their books.

Premise: A one sentence story of what your novel is about.

Proofreader: Someone who checks a manuscript for spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Show Don’t Tell: A way of giving readers information that is needed for the story in an indirect way, by showing things through actions, senses or feelings rather than just saying it.

Tone: The writer’s attitude that comes across through their writing.

Has this post helped you to expand your writing vocab? If there’s any other writing jargon you can’t quite get your head around, let us know in the comments below and we’ll include it in our next jargon busting post.

Writing For Young Children

There’s a common idea amongst many people that writing for children is easy. This isn’t true. In some ways writing for young children can be harder than writing for adults, as things like word choice require a lot more thought. Still, there are always tips to give for all types of writing, so here are ours for writing for young children.

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Decide on a reading age

As children work their way through primary school they very rapidly expand on their reading knowledge. One year they’ll be stuck on simple sentence and the next they’ll be more than happy to use compound sentences. This means you’ll really need to know your target audience before you write. If you’re not 100% sure on what words are best for your audience, buy a literacy teaching exercise book for your age group and have a look at what words are suggested in those.

Make it a challenge

Books should challenge children, as it’s this slight difficulty that helps them to expand their vocabulary. Use a few words in the book that are a little above their reading age but that can still be sounded out. This way they’ll either be able to guess what the word means by the context or they’ll ask a parent or teacher. Don’t make these few extra words too advanced or too frequent though; you don’t want to put them off reading.

Make it aspirational

For children, a lot of their time is spent thinking about what it’s like to be older, whether that’s being year six and sitting on the benches in assembly or year three and being in a different section of the playground. Similarly, your books for six year olds shouldn’t have children of that age as the protagonist. The protagonist should always be a couple of years older so your readers can aspire to be like them.

Think in threes

This is best for books written for really young children, but in theory it works well for all readerships. Think of fairy tales; there are the three little pigs, the three billy goats gruff, the three wishes, everything is in threes. This is because they provide a pattern for the children without dragging the story out too much.

Use repetition

Repetition is a great way to make children’s books interactive. I remember We’re Going on a Bear Hunt was my favourite book as a child because I loved joining in with the repeated bits. Not only does this repetition make the reading fun (and so encouraging children to read more), it also helps children to recognise and learn the words on the page.

 

These seem like pretty simple tips, I know, but follow them and you’ve got the makings of a great children’s story. If you’re ever stuck just think back to when you were younger and take a good look at your favourite book then. What made you love it so much? Chances are, the reason you loved that book will be the reason your readers love yours.

A Short Guide To Dialogue

Every novel requires dialogue, and wouldn’t be as exciting to read without it. Used well, it can bring tension and action to a story, as well as helping to let readers know what different characters are thinking and feeling. Getting it right can be pretty tricky, so here’s a few tips to help you out.

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It’s never perfect

…so don’t try to make it so. People never have a conversation where every question is answered and every word is heard and reacted to; it just doesn’t happen. Often, people will answer a question with another question, or they will complete ignore it and talk about something else. Not doing this and instead making everything perfect is unrealistic and won’t sit well with your readers. I feel that this is especially important when it comes to police interviews. The interviewee will most definitely not answer every question, and will often change the subject to talk about something or someone else. They might even just ask for a drink.

Think of people’s feelings

The undertones of text are just as important, if not more important, than what is being explicitly said. You want your character to let her friend now she loves her. That’s great, we all love a good romantic confession. However, you don’t have to outright say that. Do you really think a girl is going to just stand there and say ‘hey, I love you’ to her best friend? No. It’s much more difficult, and you have to capture that. Instead she’d probably go on about the little things that made her fall in love, and from these we can guess, and so can her friend, what she’s getting at.

People exaggerate

People exaggerate things, so even if your reader knows that the tiger your protagonist fought was just out of its mother’s womb, the protagonist is much more likely to describe it to their friends as the biggest tiger they’ve ever seen. It may seem silly including little things like this in your work, but it’s something that will make your dialogue more realistic and will bring your characters to life. And your exaggerations don’t have to be this wild. It could be something as simple as elaborating on how happy or angry someone was to them.

Don’t overuse punctuation!

See? Seriously, just don’t. The more you use an exclamation mark, the less impact it has when it really matters. And anyway, I doubt your characters really do shout that much, so why make it look like they are? The only punctuation marks that should show up really often are full stops, commas and question marks. Everything else, save for special occasions. Similarly, make sure you use ellipses (…) and hyphens (-) correctly. Use ellipses to show where someone is trailing off at the end of a sentence, and use a hyphen to show that they have been interrupted.

Don’t cram

There’s a lot of information crucial to your story that you want to get across during speech, we get that, but is it realistic that your character would sit and say all of this to someone in one monologue? If not, find another way to get the information across, whether it’s two different people taking it in turns telling bits or just that part of it is written on paper for people to see instead. Make sure you only get the essentials across in the actual dialogue, and tell us the rest in a different way.

 

If you follow these five simple tips, your dialogue could improve massively. The main thing though is to read back through any dialogue you’ve written with a friend. If anything feels unnatural to you, or it sounds forced or unlikely, change it so it feels right. Dialogue can be a very useful tool to a writer if used correctly, so make sure you get it spot on.