One day a dragon came for breakfast

21st March 2003 at 00:00
A new course could show you how to keep children reading as you tell what happens next.

THE phenomenal success of children's author JK Rowling has inspired the creation of a course for wannabe children's authors.

If you are still excited about witches, wardrobes and wizards, you may have fantasised about becoming the next CS Lewis or Ursula Le Guin. Making Magic Happen, an Open College of the Arts distance-learning course, launched this month, could help you realise that dream.

The course was the idea of OCA director Roger Head and children's author, Beth Webb. It was devised in response to a flood of requests from would-be authors.

Mr Head said: "People are more aware that writing for children can be sophisticated. All the Harry Potter publicity and the fact that the Whitbread prize was won by Philip Pullman in 2001 has helped people see it as a quality genre."

The OCA, founded by the late Lord Young of Dartington in 1986 to fill a gap in distance-learning for the arts, offers creative writing courses from beginner to advanced levels. All students are encouraged to take the level 1 Starting to write course first. Making Magic Happen is pitched at intermediate level.

Students work from a course book with tutors who are practising writers.

OCA students can enrol at any point in the year and have two years to complete a course.

Beth Webb, who has written eight children's books and illustrated many picture books for adults with severe learning disabilities, wrote the course book.

"When I saw the original draft, it had an interesting, fresh flavour to it," says Mr Head. "We thought that the title of a children's writing course ought to reflect the excitement of the venture."

The book contains Beth Webb's own illustrations. This is a course that takes the fun of writing for children very seriously. She said: "As I understand it, magic in children's writing isn't about wand waving and casting spells. Magic means bringing new worlds into existence in a child's imagination."

Students can choose to write for any age from five upwards within a carefully-crafted framework. One section was written with help from a clinical child psychologist.

"It is important to write very responsibly for children because they can literally be terrified by a story," says Beth Webb.

0"Students learn that they can include dangerous things in their writing but that they must give the hero or heroine - with whom the reader identifies - the key to get back to safety."

She advises against the sort of writing in which characters wave wands to make everything better. "If it's not done well, a child can associate a character rubbing a lamp with the idea that their mum will get well or their sad home life will improve," she says.

Students learn how to gather ideas and tell and structure a story. They work through the course book, which contains an intriguing array of chapter titles, from Spell-ing for beginners ("how to make a reader want to crawl inside a story") to Pinning the fairy to the page ("how to get a beautiful story down without killing it"). There is even a section for people who are natural storytellers rather than writers.

"A lot of people are great storytellers rather than great story-writers and can get disheartened when their stories don't work on the page," says Webb.

"Instead, we encourage them to tell."

Established children's writers including Philip Gross, David Almond and Hugh Lupton contributed another section. Students analyse chapters from the authors' books and read commentaries in-the-author's-words about how and why they wrote them.

OCA students range from age 19 to 99 and come from all walks of life.

"Students usually come to us to study something they've always dreamed of doing," says Head. Many do it for fun but a growing number of OCA courses are accredited by the University of Glamorgan. Like Mr Head, who trained as a chemist but had a lifelong interest in painting and printmaking, many students have turned to the arts after a career doing something different.

"This particular course is for anyone who feels a tug at their heart and wants to have a go at children's writing," says Mr Head. "They'll often have had it in mind for a long, long time and need a kick start.

"The course is basically about discovering that magic and stab of joy within yourself. It's for people who can imagine finding a dragon in their kitchen before breakfast."

For information about Making Magic Happen and other creative writing courses, contact the OCA on 01226 730495 or go to

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