writing books for the children how to get ideas and inspiration

Writing an engaging story for young readers means you need to create a world that’s going to hold their interest and characters they are going to relate to. So where can you get your ideas from? We talk to successful children’s book author, Anna Fienberg, about drawing from her own life - and how you can tap into your imagination.
Nearly all of Anna’s books have been listed as Notable Books by the Children’s Book Council. Anna’s most recent book for older readers is called Number Eight, about a boy with a passion for even numbers and who despises odd numbers.
She admits that it’s partly based on her son. “He particularly loves the number eight,” says Anna. “Very often… if he was chewing, he’d have to chew twice on one side and twice on the other and have to count his peas on his plate before he ate them and so on. And so everything took quite a while but I’m glad to say he seems to be over this now.”
Drawing on fairytales
Anna is most known for her Tashi series of books. There are now 15 in the series; the latest is called “Tashi and the Phoenix”. Anna says she often draws on fairytales which influence the adventures of her lead character Tashi. “I think they actually they do draw on fairytales quite often,” says Anna. “There’s such a rich variety there you know to look at and interpret in new ways. So I think we all in some ways rewrite ideas according to our own world. For instance, I love that character of the evil grandma from Russian and Czech and Polish fairytales. And the Forbidden Room was actually based on Bluebeard and The Magic Flute, where the stranger comes to town and there’s a locust plague.
"Fairytales, although they’re fantasy, they obviously really highlight real human dramas and conflicts, don’t they?"
However, inspiration doesn’t only come from fairytales. It can also come from real life. “I remember Tashi Lost in the City came quite directly from the day when my son was about eight and he was lost just for seven minutes at Darling Harbor but it was the most horrifying seven minutes I think of my life… You sometimes tend to work out your angst through stories.”
A difficult journey
While many people think that writing for younger readers is all “sweetness and light”, it can also be a difficult and dark process. That’s what Anna experienced when she wrote Borrowed Light, about a 16-year-old girl who falls pregnant and feels alienated from her family. It was her first young adult book.
"That was actually a really difficult book to write," she says. "I really wanted to write about adolescence and that search for self… I tend to write from the inside… so you push yourself there and I was back at… being 16 and thinking about how it felt, how life felt at that stage. I’d written mainly fantasy before then but I wanted to write a real-life story. But I just couldn’t find my way in or out of that you know rather gloomy place."
While this book was anchored in angst and real life, many of Anna’s books include magical ideas and experiences. “I think magic, for me, has always felt very much like the dream world,” she says. “I love the way it’s a more Freudian look at [the world]. You might be dreaming about the sole of your shoe but really it’s your soul. I feel that magic and fairytales and so on are weighty with symbols - like dreams are. And so, in a sense, I think I have used symbols of my own dreams - and what I’ve read and think about - to relate to the character’s real-life experiences. I try to get them to reflect that.”
Living in the world you have created
When you’re inhabiting the world of the character you’ve created, it can be disappointing when the world finally ends - when you’ve finally completed your story. Anna says she craves discovering and inhabiting the next world in her writing. “I read about writers saying that while they’re writing one book they’ve got ideas for the next,” she says. “[But] I have long periods of drought in between the major novels. You know, I’m still grieving for the last and thinking about the next - but it’s so wonderful when it arrives you know.
"It is like falling in love. You know when you’ve seen someone at a bus stop you know and you’re sort of looking at their face - and you know your world’s going to change you know. Well it’s a bit like that. It drops out of nowhere. And I’ll just know."
As a prolific writer, Anna understands the importance of discipline when it comes to her craft. However, she also has some unexpected rituals in her writing routine. “I always thought I had to wipe down the kitchen sink; that was really important; and have things in order you know. Because otherwise I feel chaotic and I’ve left things in a mess before I go into this other world,” Anna confesses. “It’s a bit of a ritual with the kitchen sink and now I walk my dog too. The act of walking is lovely actually. It frees you, it’s almost like a passage from the real world into the imaginary world.”
Be kind to yourself
For aspiring writers, Anna says “be kind to yourself”. “I feel like I’ve spent years with this critical voice on my shoulders saying you know, ‘Call that a sentence? Why do you even bother writing for?’
"I think writing’s a bit like dreaming while you’re awake and you need to do the dream in order to then have the material there. And there’s the excitement and the discovery of editing it back into shape and so on. And if that editor on your shoulder comes in too much and too strongly, it can really inhibit that flow and the whole reason for writing."