Andrew Lane, author of the fantastic Young Sherlock Holmes books (Death Cloud, Red Leech, Black Ice and Fire Storm), answered some of our questions.
Here are his responses:
What were some of your favourite books when you were a child?
In no particular order, I loved The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien, Stig of the Dump by Clive King, the three books in the Tripods trilogy by John Christopher (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire, various science fiction novels by Andre Norton (Dread Companion, Sargasso of Space, Plague Ship, Catseye) and various science fiction novels by Alan E. Nourse (Star Surgeon and Rocket to Limbo). I also remember finding a copy the first Mars novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs (A Princess of Mars) hidden in a cupboard in my parents’ house, and being told that it was too ‘adult’ for me. I then became obsessed by reading it, and all the rest of the books in the series.
Which of your books was the most difficult to write? Why?
The most difficult was the third one, Black Ice, for the simple reason that I started without having a full plot. As I got towards the half-way mark I got more and more panicky that I didn’t know what was going to happen. The last half of the book was pretty much made up on the fly as I was writing, which caused a lot of stress. One result of that was that about 10,000 words (two whole chapters) were cut out of the book because they just wandered off in a different direction and had nothing to do with the main plot (fortunately I’ve turned those chapters into a stand-alone short story which is going to be published for Christmas for the Amazon Kindle).
How do you write your books?
As indicated above, I try to plot them out in some detail, purely so I can keep writing without having to worry about what happens next. I ten to write a paragraph about each chapter, saying who’s in it, where it takes place and what happens. I find plotting the hardest part of writing, however. I get paralysed by the sheer range of things that might happen, and I can’t focus down on the one single path through the forest of possibilities.
Where do you write your books?
I keep thinking that I should have a special place where I can write uninterrupted, but it never works out that way. I tend to write either in the room in the house where we keep the computer (if I can find a time when my son isn’t using it) or using a laptop while sitting cross-legged on my bed (until my back locks-up). I spend quite a lot of time on trains, and I can write quite effectively their as well. A default fall-back is the cafe at the local indoor waterpark, where I often take my son and his friends. I’ve recently had a shed constructed in the back garden, which I’ve fitted out with a desk and shelving, but I need to insulate it now against the winter air.
Why do you enjoy writing for children?
Writing for adults is like dropping a stone into a deep well – you strain your ears listening for the splash, but often you can’t hear anything. Writing for children is like throwing stones into a pond – you can see the reaction and track the ripples as they move. Children are great about telling you exactly what they like and don’t like about what they’re reading. The feedback is immediate, and fascinating, and very very useful.
What advice would you give to young writers to help them improve their stories?
Firstly, write a lot. Write every day. Write lots of different stuff. Write a diary. It’s all good practice.
Secondly, read a lot – and the trick is to read things that are bad as well as things that are good. You can learn a lot more from reading something bad because it’s easier to work out why it’s bad than it is to work out why something is good (and also you can use it as motivation by telling yourself that you can do better).
Thirdly, you need to realise that stories about things happening are much less interesting than stories about why things are happening.
If you’d like to find out more about Andrew Lane and his books, check out the Young Sherlock Holmes website.