Thursday, 1 June 2017

A fantastic guest post from E.J Clarke, author of "Rowan Oakwing" to celebrate book 2's release today!

We're handing over the controls of the good ship ReadItDaddy today to E.J Clarke, author of the fantastic "Rowan Oakwing" series of books.

We absolutely loved the first Rowan Oakwing book which revealed the magical world of fairies hiding out amongst the landmarks of London.

Here's Ed's post - enjoy!

From Films to Books and Back Again.

I went to considerable lengths not to write the Rowan Oakwing books. This probably seems like an odd admission, but it is nevertheless true.

My day job is working with screenwriters in film production, and I’m part of a small company set up by the film director Joe Wright (who directed Atonement and Pride and Prejudice and most recently, the Peter Pan prequel, Pan). The idea for Rowan Oakwing started life as a premise for a film. My initial inclination was to do what I normally do when I have an idea - find someone else to write it. I contacted the people I thought would be the right choice for a story about an ordinary girl from London who turned into a fairy, but the answer that came back wasn’t the one I expected.

I spoke to two of my favourite screenwriters – Frank Cottrell Boyce (who wrote Millions as a book and a film) and David Magee (who wrote Finding Neverland and adapted The Life of Pi) – and they both loved the idea of all the Royal Parks in London being secret fairy sanctuaries established by Queen Victoria. So far so good. But realising it was a story personal to me, and inspired by own daughters, they both encouraged me to write it. David Magee even offered to mentor me in the process, as he told me that’s how he was able to write Finding Neverland as his first screenplay.

Their generosity and encouragement left me in a bit of a quandary. I’d never written anything before. Let alone had anything published. (Unless you counted an ill-advised entry in the East Midlands Regional Poetry Anthology of 1995.) I certainly wasn’t a person who had always wanted to write. Writing anything that I didn’t have to stopped aged 13 when a friend of my little brother’s stole my diary and told the whole school which girl I liked. I imagine that little mini-trauma left a mark on my young brain, namely not to write anything remotely personal because it will only cause you severe embarrassment! To an extent, this probably stayed with me as I grew up. I wasn’t confident in what I wrote, and consequently didn’t do much of it.

I was too nervous to take David up on his offer, but I realised that this was a moment I still had to seize. And where fear of failure and public ridicule may have stopped me in the past, now I had two daughters who proved to be my salvation. I knew that I was ultimately writing for them. And if they read my story and liked it, that would be enough. Anything else would be a bonus. It was sufficient to get me started.

Now I was actually writing. A 43 year old man writing a book about fairies. It was a heady, slightly surreal feeling. But then the technical challenges set in. Even though I was writing it as a book, I was really just describing the film I could see in my head. All my experience, and all my training was in film so I didn’t think in a literary way at all.

In some ways this helped, as early advisers told me that middle grade books and film scripts do have certain things in common. One was length – roughly 25,000 words - and hence the rhythm of the story was going to be similar to what I was used to. Another thing was action. I was advised that children don’t like a good deal of description, they preferred action and plot – and this was also how film scripts worked. I’d worked on many adaptations from novels in the past, and was surprised at how long it took for the actual plot to get going. Film scripts were all about cutting to the action as soon as possible, and revealing character through the decisions they take. As I was writing I had to remind myself that I could actually communicate my main character’s thoughts directly to the reader…

I set out to write a story that was action-packed and in many ways I was inspired more by the story-telling of Pixar movies than I was by other children’s authors. I tended to think more in terms of ‘scenes’, and how the emotional arcs of the characters would link those scenes together. I was also keen that, like the best of Pixar, it was a story that could be read on different levels and enjoyed as much by parents as by their children. So it’s as much about parenting in some ways as it is about a child going on an adventure.

The reaction to the book when it was finished was incredibly gratifying. I was especially pleased to hear people telling me how much they could ‘see’ the story in their heads. My editors still had a big job to do though - I had gotten rather carried away with the idea I could reveal character’s thoughts and they had to remind me I should only really do that with my main character

Finally, we had a manuscript we were all proud of, and before long I had a real life book that I could read to my daughters and put on their shelves. Sitting down for the first time to read it to my eldest daughter at bedtime will go down as a life highlight I know. Personally, I had also got over the self-consciousness I had in being a writer, and it’s something I now talk about to kids when I do school events. My friends in film all know about my little ‘sideline’, and have been brilliantly supportive – particularly my writer friends who learned all these lessons so much earlier than me.

What’s next? I’m trying to unlearn everything I’ve just experienced by adapting Rowan Oakwing into a film script!

(which is FANTASTIC NEWS!)

Thanks so much for such a brilliant post Ed.

"Rowan Oakwing: Night of the Fox" by E.J. Clarke is out today, published by Orchard Children's Books.