Judy Waite, award-winning writer of over fifty Children’s and Young Adult fiction titles, began her talk to the Hampshire Writers’ Society with a tribute to Barbara Large, who was our friend, founder, inspiration and a great ally within the publishing world.
It was at the Winchester Writers’ Conference that Judy, a novice, found not only access to specialist workshops, but also the confidence to take Barbara’s advice: “Keep writing.”
It was a crazy time, Judy says, as she was working as well as writing. Time, she agrees, is one of the writer’s great enemies. Once published, she enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing. A bit back to front; but she still felt unsure when talking about how to write.
Judy was not just here to talk to the Society though. She treated us, the gathered members and guests, to an interactive exercise, introducing an envelope, sheet of spare paper, pencil and candle for each of us.
“If you’re trying to get a child to write a story,” she told us, “don’t get them to tell you it first – they’ll think, job done!”
Encompassing a wide age range, Judy has written for four-year olds, “Mouse Look Out”, and fourteen-year olds, “Game Girls”. She writes trade fiction, research and rigour books which are usually aimed at older boys. Educational books, like “Jamboree Storytime Level B: I wish I Had a Monster”, are mostly for schools and are commissioned, but still publishers of these are always pleased to hear from authentic authors.
Judy also writes High Low books, like “The Street”, a collection of short books aimed at older children who have difficulty reading – perhaps English is not their first language or they are dogged by dyslexia.
‘Where do you get your ideas from?” is the most common question that Judy is asked. Ideas are all around us, she says, suggesting that we use the pen in front of us – imagine that pen full of optimism, wonder and energy to write ethical, positive works, in the wrong hands. Or the pencil on the desk – what is its one true desire; could it be, to be a crayon?
“So that’s how your mind works,” a student commented. That started Judy thinking that of course, all writers may indulge in creativity, but not in the same way. We write from the heart, she enthuses, not the head. It is neither easy nor natural to write with your head saying, I write like this, because this is what the publishers of my chosen genre require.
Judy’s teaching was a resounding success, but at the time, she felt as though she was “standing on the top of a hill on a windy day, throwing her ideas into the air”. This was when Wordtamer was born. Judy was commissioned to put all her ideas into a book.
Her teaching takes the form of: de familiarisation, character connection, free-writing (the Freudian method of helping shell-shocked soldiers to cope with what is going on in their heads), the silent zone and visualisation. These all were incorporated into the continuing interactive exercise.
The most interesting of Judy’s methods is Active Research – she once had a character who spent some time in prison “…so I decided I’d better get arrested.” she said. This, after having auditioned for a position in a boy band and visiting Cardboard City, London. Judy is not our only author who indulges in active research – remember Karen Hamilton’s Characters on the Couch, Penny Ingham’s archaeology?
“When I’m asked to write a story, my mind goes blank,” one of her reluctant writers said. Five weeks later, that same child wanted to be a writer, because thanks to Judy Waite, he was no longer “blank in the mind.”
Report by Lisa Nightingale