‘Be inspired by your favourite books, but don’t let fear stop you writing your story.’
Tim Harris is the author of the best-selling series, The Remarkables, Toffle Towers, and the hilarious series exploding off the shelves, Exploding Endings, to name a few.
He’s won many awards for his books, is a much sought-after speaker and presenter at schools, as well as for his entertaining workshops, and even has his own youtube channel, PRIMARY WRITERS, aimed at helping teach young ones all about writing.
I felt like I needed a little lay down after his session which was just absolutely jam-packed with writing tips. Where to begin?
Tim’s journey began with a love of reading as a boy. He was a reluctant reader, but thanks to a teacher-librarian who introduced to him Paul Jennings, who was THE thing back then, he discovered a love of books. (Oh how we need our teacher librarians! Keep libraries in schools!)
Later, in his teaching days, Tim enjoyed reading aloud to his year one class, mostly Paul Jennings, and other funny stuff. He loved the reaction and interaction with the kids, and around this time had his own creative itch in great need of scratching. Listen up, because this is where Tim says he got his first big break!
As an end of year Christmas gift to his class, he decided to write them a story. (The original story was ten thousand words and when it was later published it was trimmed down to 3000!). The kids enjoyed it as you would expect, even though Tim was nervous to share his work. Not long after, a parent emailed him saying how much her son loved the story, and what was the book called? After explaining he wrote it, she asked for a copy so she and her son could read it again. Another email appeared a week later, and it turns out that the parent was actually heavily involved in the CBCA. Tim admits to being so naive of the children’s book industry at the time that he had to google the CBCA! This lovely parent took the time to critique Tim’s work on his blackboard after school while her son completed his homework. Tim has never forgotten this kindness and encouragement to keep on writing, and emphasised just how key this kind of support is. He mentioned how the CKT Cocoon Club is one such wonderful source of encouragement for our writing.
Over time, and a lot of writing, Tim realised he didn’t have to be Paul Jennings, and settled into his own voice. He finds ideas everywhere. Write them down, catch them, record them! He believes in the value of writing lists. Write, write, write.
An example he gives us is a writing exercise he uses in his classes. Write a list of what you may find if you happened to dig underneath the sand. What do you think his students wrote first? Shells, yep! The first ideas will be unoriginal and a little boring, he says, but keep on going and soon you will see how divergent your ideas have become and that’s where the gems are to be found.
He talks about what kids love most about his writing; whacky and ridiculous ping-pong back and forth dialogue, funny wordplay, puns, the odd and quirky, going on tangents – anything random or that goes a little sideways, really cracks them up.
I feel I caught a little bit of this with my daughter this morning. I was putting her lunch box in her bag, we were both still a bit of sleepy-morning-routine-mode (going like snails). As I opened her bag I found some empty chip packets, pulled them out, and rolled my eyes. Then I proceeded to take out other random things and rolled my eyes – school hat – eye roll. Poppet x 3 – eye roll. The giggles started. She was confused but amused (hey, I’m so using that in a story so don’t steal it!) and then as I put in her lunch box I again rolled my eyes. “You can’t keep rolling your eyes, there’s nothing bad!” I kept on rolling my eyes with the drink bottle, and a big eye roll as I zipped up her bag. Amali couldn’t stop laughing – how can you roll your eyes at something that’s not meant to be rolled at? Amali found such a simple, odd, and random thing hilarious! Her face said it all, I’m confused but I like it and I GET it.
“Be brave to go off track,” says Tim, “But always remember to come back on track too.”
Kids love to work for the meaning of things and it makes the joke all the more satisfying to them, “OH! I get it!”.
He also mentions that humour is welcome in not only traditionally ‘funny’ books. In Harry Potter, J.K.Rowling throws in funny moments or dialogue from the characters to give the reader a little breathing space in between the heavier parts.
Tim talked about adding situational humour, recurring humour, surreal humour and you can’t talk about humour for kids without mentioning toilet humour which always seems to hit the spot for the younger ones. “Am I really allowed to be talking about this?” they wonder.
Think about always getting your reader to keep on turning the pages; you want to have that momentum.
Always read your work aloud. Always test your work out on kids, your own, (he has four children that inspire him!) in the classroom, any you can find! It gives him a real feel for what they gravitate towards.
Mostly Tim reminds us not to be afraid of stepping too close to other stories. Be inspired, be influenced; don’t copy. Having a similar idea is fine, do it your way!
Enjoy the process, because if you are, most likely your readers will enjoy it too.
Report by CKT Author, Michelle Wanasundera