Friday, 13 February 2015

WRITING FOR RELUCTANT READERS by Ann Evans

Most of us take for granted the fact that we can read and know what it's like to enjoy a good book. But how sad it is for those who have never known the pleasure of reading either because they are dyslexic or they struggle with reading for some other reason.

It's so rewarding to a writer regardless of the genre of book they write, when they get positive feedback or a good review. Even more so when the reader is a child or teenager who admits that they don't like reading - yet they loved a particular book that you'd written.

But the idea of actually writing for the market of reluctant teen readers was something of a challenge - but also a great experience, and one I hope I'll get the opportunity to do again. It's only something I've been doing for the last six months or so. I was excited to be asked by the publisher, Badger Learning if I would like to try for a series of horror books for 12-15 year olds with a reading age of around 8-9.

What they wanted were good hard-hitting stories with adult themes that would interest a teenager but written in an easier to read manner, making sure the plot moves on at a cracking rate. I sent two or three ideas to them and happily they liked one and commissioned me to write the 6,000 word title, Nightmare.

Here's the blurb:
     Everyone gets bad dreams don’t they? Todd thinks he knows why he’s getting nightmares, night after night. Guilt!
     But when he tries to put things right, it only makes matters worse. A whole lot worse!
     Those diabolical nightmares begin to haunt his waking moments – and those closest to him.
And a short extract:
Midnight - and Todd awoke in a sweat, again. A cold sweat making the sheets stick to his clammy skin, making his heart thump. Sleep was rare these nights, since…

He swung his legs out of bed and sat, head in hands. Of course he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t sleep because he was riddled with guilt.

He didn't mean to be so spiteful. When weirdo Elspeth from his class asked him out, he didn't mean to humiliate her – destroy her. Only all his mates were watching and he'd felt embarrassed.

The look of the book was another thing the publisher took into consideration. No self-respecting 15 year old wants to be seen reading a book that is clearly intended for an 8 year old. So the covers, not just of my book, but all 12 books in the Teen Reads II series (and all their other series) have fantastic covers.

I don't know about the other authors, but I'm sure they had the same experience, I was sent sample ideas for my cover, and I had a say in which we should go for. For Nightmare, it was a unanimous agreement, that the gaunt haunting face with dark hollow eye sockets and a gaping screaming mouth suited the story so well. And once it was confirmed that the cover was to be that image I was able to tweak my story to make sure my narrative matched what was on the cover.

Then a couple of months ago, I was invited to try for another new series they were planning, Dark Reads, again for 12-15 year olds, but this time with the reading age of 6-7. I did a double take of the brief when I saw they wanted stories of just 600 words!

This series was to be based loosely around the classic horror stories that most people have heard of. One idea of mine was based around The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. This turned out to become Red Handed. And inspiration for the other book, Straw Men was based loosely on a certain part of The Wicker Man. I won't say which part of the story so as not to spoil it. But it's pretty sinister. The actual story behind Straw Men had been rattling about in my brain ever since I went to a village Scarecrow Festival and realised how creepy they were.

Writing a book in just 600 words was definitely a challenge. But knowing that each double page spread would have a full page illustration, I thought of it like a picture book, and allowed the picture to tell more of the story that the words left out. So often there was more explanation in my M/S than actual narrative and dialogue.

The publisher did a great job in finding the right artists for each book. The talented artist and animator Amit Tayal illustrated Red Handed and the amazing Kevin Hopgood who has worked on Iron Man, Marvel Comics and much more, did the Straw Men illustrations. I consider myself very lucky!

The icing on the cake obviously will be to get some positive feedback from some reluctant or struggling teen readers. So if you know anyone who fits the bill...

Here's the link to find out more, and the publisher are currently running a competition to win the entire set of Dark Reads.


Dark Read titles:
Blood Moon by Barbara Catchpole
Ringtone by Tommy Donbavand
The Black Eyed Girl by Tim Collins
The Girl in the Wall by Tommy Donbavand
Doctor Jekyll and Little Miss Hyde by Tony Lee
Ship of the Dead by Alex Woolf
Red Handed by Ann Evans
Straw Men by Ann Evans

Please visit my website: www.annevansbooks.co.uk




5 comments:

Dennis Hamley said...

I've written similar 6000 word stories for kids like this for Evans and now Ransom in the Shades series. They look like small novels with their well-chosen covers and their 64 pages so nobody should feel squeamish about being seen reading them. And you're right, Ann: writing them is indeed a very rewarding thing to do. I too have had a go at 600 word ghost stories for Rapid Reading - and they are REALLY DIFFICULT to get right!

Susan Price said...

I'm with you, Ann and Dennis. Most writers know that writing a good short story is, if anything, harder than writing a good novel - but so many dismiss picture-book texts, or short, simply worded stories for reluctant readers, or non-fiction for 8-year olds as 'kid's stuff' and 'easy.' When, in fact, it's very, very difficult to do well.

Go and read the short texts for Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things Are' or, even better, 'In The Night Kitchens', if you think this work is easy or lacking in art.

Jan Needle said...

fabulous gig! envious...

Reb MacRath said...

Hard though short stories are, short-shorts--or flash--are still harder. Took me a month to produce 1400 words for AE's anthology. So I salute what you've accomplished.

Ann Evans said...

Thank you all for your comments. And Jan, how nice that you've joined the FB Cov Writers Group page.