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Learn To write For Children



In a publishing world dominated by contemporary boy heroes, Hilary McKay's Wishing for Tomorrow stands out for being both focused on girls and because it is inspired by an existing classic, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.


Since many of today's readers might not have come across the original story (although their mums probably have), McKay is careful to explain what happened in the original story when the wealthy child, Sara, is relegated to the life of a serving girl after the death of her father, before being rescued by her benefactor.

A Little Princess is set in the Miss Minchin's boarding school in London and it is to this setting that Wishing for Tomorrow returns. McKay explains: "I read A Little Princess with my daughter and she asked what happened to Ermengarde and the other children that were left behind when Sara leaves? I had asked that same question when I first read the book so I decided to find out. I ­started to do some research to get back into that world and I found old lesson books and recipes for children. I felt that using the setting of Miss Minchin's­ would breathe atmosphere into the story, but I always planned to burn it down at the end of my story, it had to go.

"I wrote a number of drafts before getting the voice right. The first time around I used much more Little Princess language but it felt like I was trying too hard so we decided it would be better in plain English. Also the original story was very much about Sara but I wanted to focus on Ermengarde, who loved stories and felt very abandoned after Sara left. I think she was the most appealing character in the book but she was completely outshone by her best friends.

"I wanted to explore why the characters were as they were, why the Minchins had set up the school and why Lavinia was not very nice. Lavinia was frustrated by her lack of education and if no help had come along, she could have easily ended up as another Miss Minchin.

"I think that the main message in the original book was how the poor children were treated and if the author transformed anyone's life, it was that of Becky the abused maid.

"Writing this book was a real escape for me and I'd like to write another about what happens to the girls when the First World War starts."



Cornelia Funke's stories often blur the bar­riers between our world and that of fairytales and her latest novel, Reckless ­(Chicken House, September), also makes the transition from the "real" world to a ­magical place peopled­ by ­fairytale characters.

In Reckless, Jacob Reckless finds a way into Mirrorworld, a fairy­tale world that has fallen in love with human industrialisation. The Goyl, an aggressive people made of stone, are slowly conquering Mirrorworld using human technology and fairy magic. When Jacob's younger brother, Will, follows him into Mirrorworld, an enchantment turns him into a Goyl. Reckless is about Jacob's search for a cure for his brother.

Before she started to write Reckless, Funke had worked with Harry Potter film producer Lionel Wigram on a version of "The Nutcracker", which Wigram plans to turn into a fantasy movie. Funke says: "That hasn't yet happened and we were left with this vision of a 19th-century fairy tale world becoming modern. I decided to use that idea but to combine it with the Grimm fairy tales I grew up with. Lionel agreed to work on the story with me and he is credited on the front page of Ruthless.

"As a writer, it was a challenge to have someone involved in the story from the beginning. We got together for four weeks to create the worlds and characters and then exchanged thoughts nearly every day as I wrote the book. I write in German, so my cousin Oliver had to stay with me so he could translate the pages as I wrote them ready for Lionel to read them.

"The world I create in the first book draws on the fairy tales from central Europe and the Brothers Grimm, but I did quite a bit of research into the original folk tales and found how the Grimms changed them, including making the female characters weaker. My story includes very strong female characters like Fox, a girl who chooses to take on the identity of a fox.

"I have planned to write a trilogy about Mirrorworld and to explore different legends and stories in each book. The second book will be based around British folk tales and fairy tales—I nearly drowned in them, there are so many—and it will deal with love and death."

Copyright Academy of Children's Writers 2010