Jericho Writers
4 Acer Walk , Oxford, OX2 6EX, United Kingdom
UK: +44 (0)345 459 9560
US: +1 (646) 974 9060
Writing for Children: “When a writing course is everything it promised and a bit more”

Writing for Children: “When a writing course is everything it promised and a bit more”

We’re thrilled to be offering another round of the Writing for Children course with Eleanor Hawken, beginning in September 2021. The course is six weeks long and is perfect for beginners, lovers of children’s books and for those with a passion for storytelling.

Florence Gladwell, a student on the inaugural course, shared her experience with us.

(Image: @nickmorrison on Unsplash)

Writing for Children with Eleanor Hawken

If I were to sum up my experience of Jericho’s Writing for Children course with Eleanor Hawken, I would say:

I’m so glad I did and I’m confident of what to do next. And because of the tutor guidance, frequent quality critique, and encouragement within the group, I really want to do it again!

Early Expectations

I was excited from the day I enrolled. I had a clear set of expectations for myself and from the course. For myself, I wanted to grow the pocketful of ideas I had been carrying around and focus on developing them into a fun, gripping, and marketable story. Another major driver was to get more experience in exchanging critique with people who were interested in writing for kids.

From the course I expected everything that was advertised – weekly tutorials; peer-exchange and video meet-ups; covering the ins and outs of the children’s book industry; selecting an appealing narrative voice for different ages; building rounded characters with distinctive voices; creating dramatic tension; establishing a workable plot; as well as making sure to nail the ending.

It was a full-on six weeks, to say the least, and I absolutely loved every minute – even if my young daughter sometimes had to nag me to get off the computer.

Delightful Surprises

What I hadn’t expected was how great it would be to have a diverse range of stories, voices, and skill sets all bouncing off one another. Our group had people working on everything from picture books to YA, contemporary to fantasy, first person to third person with multiple POV, and some beautiful lyrical prose to contrast others with a more tightly-paced style of writing.

Although many of the group commenced the course with fully-formed ideas, completed first drafts, and in some cases, well-advanced manuscripts, I did not. This is because after finding no takers for my first manuscript (a middle-grade fantasy adventure), then seeking feedback from Jericho’s manuscript assessors, I decided to let it go and start again. This was a lot easier than I imagined. I had realised the story’s core wasn’t good enough, and this time I was already starting to understand so much more about myself, the industry, and what I really wanted to write.

“What I hadn’t expected was how great it would be to have a diverse range of stories, voices, and skill sets all bouncing off one another.”

At this stage, a course where I could develop an idea with some guidance and feedback sounded perfect. And then one day an email came from Jericho Writers, offering me just that.

The Nitty-Gritty: How My Ideas Developed Through the Six Week Course

Week one: Our homework was to write a brief pitch, such as you might send to an agent. This isn’t easy for anyone. Even our most progressed group members struggled. But with exchanges of feedback and Eleanor’s keen eye, I managed to find a pitch I was really happy with. Now there was just the small task of living up to it.

Week two: The exercise involved outlining a simple plot. Again, ‘simple’ does not mean easy. This was a big concept to turn around in a few days, but I cobbled something together and submitted it. I was relieved to find I wasn’t miles behind many of those with a first draft. After the group helped me express my ideas more clearly, Eleanor really hit the nail on the head when she explained what made my proposed story special and what it lacked. The worst of it was, my proposal didn’t live up to the pitch. For the time being, I let my ideas marinate – but we’ll get back to that later.

“After the group helped me express my ideas more clearly, Eleanor really hit the nail on the head when she explained what made my proposed story special and what it lacked.”

Week three: We had our first chance to share the first five hundred words of our writing. This is when I discovered how different all our writing styles and voices were. Though distinct, some voices – like mine – were still emerging, while others were well-developed and confident. It was inspiring. I wasn’t the only person to submit multiple edits following critique from a very encouraging group, and the final offering was much better for it.

Week four: We were able to share any scene from our story which showcased characterisation. As I went away with my family during this time, I wasn’t able to make use of the group’s feedback to edit. But as it was, most comments were on the things I already suspected weren’t clear enough, while Eleanor’s notes made me completely re-evaluate the relationship of my characters. This fed a lot into how I redeveloped the plot.

Week five: This week was all about creating dramatic tension, and Eleanor gave us the option to either submit a scene of our choice or write a scene about the main character entering their bedroom. There were many variations on this theme offered up in the homework as others adapted the exercise to suit their stories. As I didn’t have a settled plot yet, I took the task requirements and built a scene which (with some editing) I think could very likely end up in my final manuscript. Brilliant. Plus, the feedback from the group gave me a lot to think about.

“Eleanor’s notes made me completely re-evaluate the relationship of my characters. This fed a lot into how I redeveloped the plot.”

Week six was supposed to be about endings. But as I mentioned earlier, I had not settled on a plot, and I was having a crisis of POV to boot. I had cheated in all the previous weeks, finding scenes in the first quarter of the story which I was pretty sure would remain the same. But an ending required me to make some decisions. Fortunately I had now been arranging and rearranging plot ideas in my head for five weeks, and I was ready to write something down. So instead of submitting a passage of writing from the end, I resubmitted a plot and five hundred words from a slightly adjusted beginning passage using a new POV. The POV change was hard, but I really wanted it so I could better tell the story as I now imagined it. With some absolutely amazing feedback and encouragement from the group, along with a few rounds of shared edits, I got somewhere that felt right. Even better – it lived up to my pitch

In just six weeks, I had found my story.

Expectations Exceeded

I put a lot into this course, but I got so much more out of it than I expected. I am grateful I had the opportunity, and feel privileged to have been able to experience it with such a great group of people.

If you’re interested in writing for children and are looking for a course to progress your skills and story ideas, I can highly recommend this one. Thanks again Eleanor!

About Florence

Florence Gladwell is an aspiring writer from Australia and mother of one adorable but rascally pre-schooler, who charmed the course participants by drawing pictures for them based on passages they submitted as homework.

If you would like to say hello to Florence or ask anything else about how she found the course, you can find her on Twitter @FlorenceGladwe1

About Eleanor Hawken

Eleanor is the published author of nine children’s books, which include the Sammy Feral’s Diaries of Weird series. She has also written numerous books and novels under pseudonyms and as a writer-for-hire for licensed brands such as Disney, Warner Brothers and Universal.

Eleanor is an experienced children’s fiction editor, having worked in the publishing industry for over 15 years. She has worked on a wide range of books from young fiction through to YA. She has a passion for storytelling, children’s books and helping other writers find their narrative voice and navigate the path to publication.

For more information on the Writing for Children course and how to apply, just click the button below: