Writing isn't child's play

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND GETTING PUBLISHED. By Allan Frewin Jones and Lesley Pollinger. TEACH YOURSELF BOOKS. Hodder and Stoughton Pounds 6.99

Punctuated as it is with quotations from exasperated editors, this book might have been commissioned by the Publishers' Defence League. But, while it is very revealing about the kind of drivel that editors are expected to consider for publication, it avoids the question of why so much drivel gets published. Nevertheless, it does its best to prevent any more tripe being added to the nation's tottering slush piles.

The most valuable items are perhaps the sections on what not to do and, more urgently, what not to write; better still, the authors never presume to tell punters how to do it. Instead they concentrate on encouraging aspiring writers to discover for themselves what appeals, what succeeds and if they themselves are capable of producing it, at the same time disabusing them of the notion that writing for juveniles is a soft option. The tone is energetic, chatty and practical, with much valuable advice on research, presentation and the etiquette of approaching publishers.

Frewin Jones and Pollinger sensibly assume that the reader is a beginner and therefore needs to be told everything. Helpful exercises are included with advice on such basics as word-counts and grammatical errors (even if the authors themselves have a tendency to write "less" when they mean "fewer"), all the way through recommendations of useful books to consult and courses to attend, up to the moment when a manuscript is complete and ready for submission. The yawning months between acceptance and publication are also dealt with; the emphasis throughout, after all, is on getting published.

The kind of aspiring writers who are not really addressed are the ones who write because they are such voracious readers that they are impelled to channel their passion into trying to produce books for themselves. No need, really; nothing will stop them, but there is plenty here for them too, not so much the homilies about Beginnings, Middles and Ends, and the underwhelming examples of irresistible opening sentences, but the guides to turning a bright idea into a workmanlike script that will at least be a pleasure to look at if not to read.

The book will do nothing for the irredeemably talent-free and the conspiracy nuts who are convinced that the professionals are in cahoots to exclude them from a lucrative wheeze, but if it aborts just one saga about Cuthbert Corkscrew and his pals in the cutlery drawer it will have done a good job. And it answers just about every question you ever thought of asking.

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