Angela James is a children’s book author and school creative writing coach who every day witnesses first-hand the crucial benefit of parents encouraging children to read. She understands that our lives are busy and it isn’t easy for parents to devote the time that they would like to to reading and writing so she has developed a number of creative writing exercises and reading hints and tips to help busy parents.
Angela James’ latest book is The Theft of the Black Diamond (The Amshir Legacy Series) which is out now, and available from Amazon.
We were delighted to be able to interview Angela recently:
1. Did you always want to be a writer from a very young age? Can you explain when you first decided it was what you wanted to do, and how you then went about getting published?
Yes. I was always fascinated with words. I remember learning to read and can still remember those first early books when I read out aloud to the teacher. I also remember the moment that I discovered I could do joined-up writing with a pencil and how smoothly the letters rolled on from each other. Both of these new skills allowed me to go on journeys into my imagination. So, the desire to write has been there from my early school days. It was only after taking an Open University degree in Literature and Creative Writing that I realised my childhood dream and started writing the kind of magical adventure stories that I loved reading about when I was growing up. Regarding getting published – that was through meeting Leila and Ali Dewji from Acorn Independent Press, when they were doing a presentation at The Swindon Festival of Literature. I approached them for a critique on my manuscript and it progressed from there.
2. My daughter is eight. She wants to be an author / illustrator and has since she was 6. What advice would you give young aspiring authors?
That’s so good to hear. For advice, it’s important to encourage writing whenever possible. Perhaps a special journal that can show her own illustrations relating to something she has written about. Or, write short stories on index cards; build up a collection of stories and file them in an index box as a mini-series. Encourage your daughter to observe her surroundings – to really notice something like the changing colours in the trees in autumn, and search for better descriptive words than just red, yellow or brown leaves (e.g. magenta, gold and copper). This will help her to write believable descriptions and broaden her vocabulary (good skills for authors).
3. I have also written a kids fiction book. What advice would you give me in my first steps to finding a publisher willing to take a look at it!?
A very good question, and one with whole books devoted to providing advice, but I’ll try and give a succinct answer… I suggest looking at ‘The Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’, an annual publication. If you don’t want to buy one every year, then ask your library if they have the most recent publication. This provides brilliant advice with publishers and agents details. It’s important to read the submission guide-lines; otherwise a manuscript could end up on a slush pile and sink without a trace. Some publishers deal directly with the author, others require an approach through an agent. Decide which approach is suitable for your work and start making contact. I hope this helps you to take your first few steps.
4. For your Amshir Series; where did the inspiration for these stories come from? Do you know where the series is heading already or is it something that grows and changes as you write?
Originally, I starting writing a series about a ‘Dragon Detective Agency’ but by complete chance I discovered that someone else had already published that idea. The similarities were uncanny, and I went home feeling quite devastated. I knew I couldn’t continue with my book/s and had to shelve the work I had already done. Looking back, it was a blessing in disguise because it would have been even worse to have spent more time finishing the first book and then finding out or being accused of plagiarism at a later stage. So, I went back to the beginning, had a major re-think and came up with ‘The Golden Moonbeam’ as the first book in ‘The Amshir Legacy’, and now followed by ‘The Theft Of The Black Diamond.’
With the planning aspect, I do have a plan, but it isn’t rigid. There are times when something grows and changes take place. So long as it works to improve the overall story, then I’m quite happy with that. I know where I want to end up, and if the final destination is the same, then for me, it doesn’t matter too much if the journey changes route a little along the way.
5. Do you have a favourite character from your books? If so, why are they “the best”!?
I love the relationship between Dingle the Dragon and Peculiar the Vampire Cat. Initially, it starts out quite thorny, but as the plots develop, it changes. They still pretend that they don’t like each other, but if anything happened to endanger the other one, they would be there for them (although they would never admit it!). But, my favourite character has to be Mailliw. He is the main character and has so many good qualities jumbled together with some flawed aspects. He makes mistakes, argues with his sister, doesn’t keep his bedroom tidy, yet he is honest, trustworthy, very loyal and has the courage to try and put things right.
6. Why do you believe it is so important for kids to be encouraged to read from an early age?
We learn our native spoken language and begin to talk from a very early age. Reading comes later and it takes time to learn that when placed in a particular order, the written symbols represent a visual form of how we communicate verbally every day. Reading and writing are life skills that enable individuals to make educational progress. Encouraging children to read and enjoy books at an early age, introduces positive beginnings for these life skills. Once they are reading, just imagine the books they can explore and enjoy; the adventures and places they can experience in their own imagination and how, in turn, this will fuel their own creativity and inspiration!
7. How can parents help their children to love reading from a young age?
We are so fortunate in having a wealth of resources to choose from these days, but just having books around and making books a part of your life is an excellent start. Then read to and with your children. I heard some years ago, that parents who read to their children regularly, have children that grow up and read to their children. This is a wonderful gift to give your children – memories of the time spent together reading and sharing books. Make it your time to enjoy together – even if it’s only ten minutes a day, it could make all the difference!
8. What advice would you give parents of reluctant readers? Particularly boys who won’t sit still, like my son…!
This gets asked quite frequently. Much depends on the age of the child and the level of their own abilities. But generally, some of the following suggestions may help:
- Make reading fun! – Use gloves puppets or favourite toys to share the stories.
- Make sure books are within their skills level – when interest and confidence have grown, gently step up the difficulty level.
- Find out their interests – if they are keen on sports or action heroes, find newspaper/magazine articles they can read, or read it to them and talk about any photographs tagged with the article.
- Word games – give them ones that are educational and fun at the same time. A ‘Word Search’ remains a popular one.
- Kids’ magazines – be selective and buy those with an educational slant, so that it’s fun and learning combined.
- Keep reading ‘little and often’ – this helps those who have difficulty concentrating or sitting still for longer than five minutes.
- Give lots of praise (we all like praise!) – even if reading is only one or two minutes to begin with, still tell them how well they have done. Show them you are proud of their achievement! Create a reward chart they can fill up with stickers of their favourite sports or action-heroes.
9. What authors do you remember reading when you were a child?
To name a few: Enid Blyton, Oscar Wilde, Hans Christian Andersen, The Brothers Grimm, Children’s versions of ‘The Greek Myths and Legends’, Children’s versions of Shakespeare’s Plays – so anything that had adventure, magic, mystery and legends!
10. Have these authors inspired you? If so, in what way?
Most definitely! Just looking at the type of childhood reading indicates that from very early on I had a preference for the adventure, magic, mystery and fantasy type genres. I enjoyed them so much, and taking the journeys into my imagination was so exciting, that I decided those were the kind of books I wanted to write for my readers. It’s just magic!
Have you read any of Angela James’ books – if you have what do you think? Do you like them? Has she inspired your kids to read more? We would love to hear from you.