Ep 294 Content ideas for author newsletters, and meet Mick Elliott, author of the Squidge Dibley series.

Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends










Submit

In Episode 294 of So You Want To Be A Writer: We talk to children’s author Mick Elliott about his Squidge Dibley series. Fresh content ideas for your author newsletter and we have three copies of Where the Dead Go by international bestselling and award-winning author Sarah Bailey to give away.

Click play below to listen to the podcast. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher Radio. Or add the podcast RSS feed manually to your favourite podcast app.

Show Notes

14 Content Ideas for Author Newsletters

Writers in Residence

Mick Elliot

When he’s not writing disgustingly epic books for kids like SQUIDGE DIBLEY DESTROYS THE SCHOOL and THE TURNERS trilogy, Mick Elliott is a producer. For almost two decades he worked at Nickelodeon Australia, producing programmes such as SLIMEFEST, CAMP ORANGE, SLIME CUP, THE KIDS’ CHOICE AWARDS, PLAY ALONG WITH OLLIE and squillions of commercials.

Follow Mick on Instagram

Follow Hachette Australia on Twitter

(If you click the link above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

Competition

WIN ‘Where the Dead Go’ by Sarah Bailey

This podcast is brought to you by the Australian Writers’ Centre

Find out more about your hosts here:

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo

Or get social with them here:

Twitter:

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Instagram:

@allisontaitwriter

@valeriekhoo

Connect with Valerie, Allison and listeners in the podcast community on Facebook

So you want to be a writer Facebook group

Share the love!

Interview Transcript

Allison

Mick Elliott is the author of the popular middle grade trilogy The Turners, and a former producer at Nickelodeon Australia, working on programs such as Slime Fest, Camp Orange, The Kids Choice Awards, and squillions of commercials. His latest novel is Squidge Dibley Destroys the School, the first book in a new illustrated series which is out now with Lothian Children’s Books. Welcome to the program, Mick.

Mick

Thank you so much for having me, Al.

Allison

All right, so you’ve been working in television for a long time. Talk to me about how your first book came to be published.

Mick

Yes. Well I was working at Nickelodeon in their creative team as a producer for almost 20 years. And what I really hoped was that I could take some of the learnings from working in TV, not just in terms of storytelling, but also just in terms of the discipline of hitting a deadline, as well. So I was hoping that I could take those two elements and turn it into a book series. Because obviously TV is a very, very collaborative medium. You’re always juggling lots of stakeholders, both creatively and also in terms of the logistics of putting a show together.

And I’ve always liked to have projects on the side. And I thought, if I can take that discipline of TV and turn it into a series that resonates with kids, in the same way that the content that I used to work on at Nickelodeon resonated with kids, hopefully I’ll actually be on to something.

What I learned was that it’s actually a lot harder than you would think in the first instance. And obviously also working fulltime in what was a very, very demanding job, and also being a parent as well, didn’t actually leave a lot of time to do the writing part of it.

So what I thought might take me 12 months, ended up pretty much taking four years, from the point at which I literally put pen to paper – I wrote the first draft in long hand – to the point where it actually came out as a published book, the first book in the Turners series, took four years.

Allison

Wow. So I’ve got two questions out of this. How did you come to be a producer in TV? Did you start out as a writer? That’s part one. And part two of it is had you always wanted to write a book? Like you said that you were hoping that you would use the experience from TV to create this book, but why did you want to write a book?

Mick

Growing up, I’d always wanted to work in film, but not knowing exactly what that would be. My only point of reference was movie directors and Stephen Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock. But this was back in the 80s and 90s and I didn’t really have a sense of what a career in film or TV might look like.

And so I actually a whole bunch of different jobs after finishing a Creative Arts degree, or an Arts degree, I should say, at University. I worked in marketing for a big cinema team for many years. But I always had little projects on the side, short films and animations and so on.

And I was actually just very, very lucky that one day, back when jobs were advertised in the newspaper, heaven forbid, that I saw – well, actually my wife saw – a job as a promo producer at Nickelodeon. I didn’t actually really know what a promo producer was. I eventually found out. It’s the person who makes those ads that tell us what time shows are on and what they’re about. But I applied for it and I was very, very lucky that the creative director at the time took a chance on me, because I didn’t have any TV experience.

And so yes, through that experience of working in TV, what I found at Nickelodeon, because outside of the TV industry you think it’s all very glamorous. But it’s actually, you have to work very, very hard, and you actually have to do a whole lot of jobs. So it wasn’t just producing, it wasn’t just editing, it wasn’t just directing, but it was also writing as well.

So really my first start was as a promo producer, which requires a very, very message driven, very crisp, very tight style of scriptwriting. And is a great discipline, a great starting point. And from there it evolved into actually doing more dialogue based scripts, writing short animations. I was lucky enough to work on a series that was a collaboration with the Sesame Workshop. And really, really learn about crafting dialogue, crafting stories, and story structure for TV.

So after doing that for many, many years, I really just had this itch to go and… You know, looking back, I probably wish that I had read more as a kid and wanted to write the book series that I would have loved to read when I was a ten year old. That was one of the things at Nickelodeon was we were always thinking about the audience. We were always thinking about, what would a kid react to, and thinking audience first.

And so I really set out with The Turners to write the book series that I would have loved to read, and to fill it with the things that I would have loved to read about. And the pace and the jokes and the gross humour, and also some really grotesque slightly horror elements in there as well, that I would have loved to read as a kid.

Allison

And you never thought to yourself… I mean, because it’s quite a visual idea, and it’s quite a visual, the pace of it and everything did remind me of television. Did you ever think of it as maybe this is actually a TV series? Or you always wanted it to be a book?

Mick

I certainly started as a book, but tried to bring that same discipline of TV storytelling into it. I think most writers hope that there might be a television series develop out of it. But I really did want to start with it as a book first. In part, because I thought it was a story that could be told on the page. And obviously on the page you can actually explore characters’ inner thoughts much more than you can on TV.

And yeah, I just really loved the idea of it being a book that kids who loved the sort of shows that I was working with would actually be able to enjoy but not on a screen. On the page. Because that’s something I’m very, very passionate about. I’m also an ambassador for the Australian Reading Hour, and I really feel very strongly about particularly getting boys to read, as well. So that’s where I really put my focus with both The Turners and with my new series Squidge Dibley.

Allison

And so did you always see The Turners as a trilogy? When you were writing the story, was it always something that you thought, oh, this is definitely more than one book? Or did it start as one and then branch out into three?

Mick

I always hoped that it would be more. And so I didn’t have a story arc that would go from the first to the third book. But I had a sense of a premise that would be able to carry for more than just one book.

And so when I was shopping around, and that process took a long time – I mean, I say shopping around as if people were wanting to buy it. But trying to get somebody to notice that I had written this book! I did certainly position it as being a trilogy. And I was obviously very, very lucky that eventually, after a lot of knockbacks, that my agent Fiona Inglis at Curtis Brown had kids that were the age of the audience. And I positioned it to her as a trilogy and she said, fantastic.

But what I found was, even though I had a full completed manuscript, I thought I would have to write the two manuscripts for the second and third books. But I found that actually I was able just to do a fairly short half page summary of what I foresaw the subsequent books would be about. And we were able to get interest from Hachette there.

And once we had a deal then I had to actually follow through and write those second and third books. Obviously ended up being quite different from the actual summary or synopsis that I had put forward initially.

Allison

Always. I always find that too. Like you put the series together and you put it in and by the time the actual books come out, the whole story is totally different. But I think they just want to see that you’ve thought about it and that you’ve got some idea of what could happen.

Mick

I think so. I think so. What was your experience with The Mapmaker Chronicles? Had you plotted out the whole journey of the characters through subsequent books?

Allison

No I had, with my kind of story, I had to have a narrative arc that would go over the three books. So I knew where it was going to end, and I was going towards that the whole time. But the things that happened in the middle changed a lot. There was a lot of difference that went on there.

Now you said on your website, which is clearly aimed at your readership, which I really liked – it’s a quite virulent green at the moment – that the hardest part about writing a book is the rewriting. Was this the aspect of writing that was the most surprising thing to you when it came to that longer form?

Mick

I think so. I think so. And a lot of it is actually just sustaining the energy, I find. It’s not so much the prospect of having to change things. That’s fine. And again, that was one of the things that I learned very early through TV producing is you can’t be precious. You can’t be precious that it’s your beautiful content, it’s your beautiful story. You have to just accept that when you’re getting editorial feedback, that the publisher is wanting to make the book as accessible and as good as it can be.

So the concept of changing things, that wasn’t a concern. It was more just literally going, okay, I feel like I’ve just climbed a mountain. I’ve gotten there, and I’ve got these drafts done and uh-oh, now the clouds have parted, there’s another mountain in front of me. Which is the rewrites. And then you do the next round of rewrites and great, I’m done, I’m at the top of the mountain. Uh-oh, the clouds have parted again and there’s another mountain!

Ugh!

So it’s actually more just about energy. Which I’ve found, as I’ve gotten, I’m more than two decades into my 20s now, and just the energy just isn’t… You know, being a parent and everything, the energy just isn’t there like it once was.

Allison

No, it’s true, isn’t it? Sometimes, you’ve got to really gear yourself up to get up that mountain, don’t you?

Mick

Yes. Yes.

Allison

So what does the writing process look like for you? So you’ve got your two series now. You’ve got The Turners. You’ve got Squidge Dibley. They’re quite character driven. And as you said, you kind of started out thinking in dialogue and things like that. But do you just have a random idea and just start writing? Or is it something that you craft in advance before you start?

Mick

I’ve sort of changed as I’ve gone on. People talk about the plotters or pantsers approach? I don’t know if you’ve talked about it on the podcast. So with The Turners, I definitely was flying by the seat of my pants. All that I had at the start of that book, and for anyone that hasn’t read it, it’s a series about a 13 year old boy who discovers by accident that he’s a shape shifter, and has to deal with everything that that brings with it.

All I actually had at the start of that series was that concept, and the opening scene. The opening scene of the main character Leo, he’s in the library at school, it’s his 13th birthday, without warning he transforms into a Komodo dragon and starts trying to eat his classmates. That’s all I had. I didn’t have anything more than that.

Allison

That’s an awkward situation, right?

Mick

Yeah. Yeah. That ended up being, you know, the heart of the book was just how this boy, this teenage boy deals with that change and deals with having to keep this big secret. That’s all I had. I didn’t really know the world, I didn’t know who the other characters were going to be, I didn’t know what the central plot, not even for the first let alone the subsequent books, was going to be.

As I’ve gone on, though, and as I’ve I guess learned a little bit more about the process and become a little bit more disciplined, when it came to Squidge Dibley and I’d come up with this idea of this boy, this stretchy, funny boy who turns up at this very, very strict school and accidentally causes chaos, I did see that it was going to be necessary to be much more disciplined with my plotting.

Oh, are you hearing that beeping, by the way?

Allison

No.

Mick

Sorry, it’s my other line. Sorry, someone is calling me on the other line.

So I did see the need to actually have to plot things out a bit. So I did a rough chapter by chapter summary of what I figured would happen, and then tried to follow it as much as possible, but giving myself the grace to deviate from it when other ideas came along.

Allison

Okay, so I’m going to get to Squidge Dibley, because we have quite a lot to talk about with him. But I just want to talk to you a little bit about the process of writing. Because there’s a lot of craziness. There’s a lot of humour, there’s a lot of hijinks, there’s a lot of stuff going on. How much of that is organic and how much of that is, oh, I haven’t had a joke for three pages, I need to put something in?

Mick

I definitely say it’s organic. I don’t have that clinical approach. I have a general sense of where a chapter is going to go. But what I find is that it actually just generally comes out. And it all seems quite normal, quite natural to me, the sort of things that happen in the books. So I’m always a bit taken aback but also delighted when I have parents, particularly, come up and say, “oh, my son loved The Turners. It’s just so bizarre! Everything in it is just so weird!”

It’s like, it’s quite normal.

Allison

Lady, you’re talking about my brain there!

Mick

It’s just normal. It’s just my normal.

So I do find all that does come quite naturally. But I also just try, if I’m making myself laugh as I go, and having a bit of a chuckle, it feels right. I’m very much, I lead by a general sense of how it feels, how I think it’s going to feel to read these scenes, read the chapters that I’m writing. If I’m chuckling, if it seems like I’m pushing things, that’s good. And I know that my publisher will say, okay, you’ve gone too far there. Which hasn’t happened much, I have to say.

Allison

All right, so with The Turners, you were the author. But with Squidge Dibley, you are author and illustrator.

Mick

Yes.

Allison

Now why? Why did you decide to write an illustrated novel?

Mick

I read a lot with my son. My wife and I have always read to our kids every night. My son is now eight. And also what I saw through travels with The Turners, and you’re always looking at other books that are out there, I just saw that there’s such a very, very fertile genre out there right now, which probably had its origins right back with Roald Dahl and some of the wonderful Quentin Blake drawings, but there’s such a powerful dynamic genre that we’re seeing through books like The Treehouse Series, obviously, through Anh Do’s wonderful Weirdo series. Particularly Bad Guys. Aaron Blabey’s amazing work. Tom Gates. Captain Underpants. And so on.

And I saw that there’s so much in those series, and I could really see how boys react particularly to those series. And essentially I wanted to give it a go. I thought, okay, let’s go a little big younger than The Turners, and let’s actually try a new form, for me, a new form of storytelling that actually involves really heavily integrating imagery with text. I mean, there’s pretty much at least one to two, sometimes three, line drawings or doodles on every page of Squidge Dibley.

And it’s a different type of storytelling. And again having come from TV producing and working in a visual medium, it was actually a bit closer to home for me. Being able to go, okay, I don’t have to do a page of descriptive text here, I can just tell it all in one illustration. The challenge really came from actually being able to deliver what I could see in my head onto the screen.

Allison

Well, that was my next question. How much experience have you actually had with illustration? What made you think, I can illustrate a novel?

Mick

Yeah. Well, I’ve got no experience. And I think there’s some delusion in there, certainly. And honestly, I still, even as a writer but definitely as an illustrator, I feel like such an imposter, such an interloper.

But I have, while I haven’t ever had professional illustration training, I’ve always been a doodler from a very, very young age right through school. Right through high school, I was always doodling little characters and funny little drawings, and doing caricatures of my teachers. And even when I started to work in the corporate world, I’d get into so much trouble from the serious business people that were my bosses for doodling during important corporate meetings. And drawing little things in the margins of my work notebook.

So I’ve always enjoyed that. But what I went to my agent with was not a proposal to try to draw like any of the amazing illustrators out there, like Aaron Blabey, or Terry Denton and so on. But actually to draw in a style that I knew that I could deliver on. And that then created the aesthetic, which is generally characters facing frontwards. I’m not great at drawing characters at an angle, although I’ve learnt over the last 400 drawings that I’ve since had to do.

And I mean, the other thing is that there’s just so many great references out there. I found that I can draw, if someone asks me, can you just draw me a picture of a tiger right now, it would be terrible. But if I can go on to Google images and have 100 pictures of tigers in front of me, well then I can actually just, I can draw from the eye quite well. Not always first time, but I can get there with a couple of goes.

So yes, it was about finding an aesthetic that worked for me. But also I think it doesn’t have to be perfect. I didn’t actually want to create an aesthetic style that was every single image looking perfect. I actually wanted it to be quite wonky and for fingers to be the wrong size or arms to be different lengths or characters’ heads to be a big lopsided. And that’s actually what I wanted. I wanted that so that it would actually appeal to the audience I was going for.

And also, though, so it wouldn’t feel too computer generated or too clinical. I really wanted it to have an organic feel. So even though I’ve drawn it using digital methods and using an Apple pen, I still wanted it to feel very much like someone had just sketched it and that it felt quite handmade.

Allison

So what do you think was the biggest learning for you with regards to balancing that writing and illustrating process?

Mick

The first thing is that illustration takes a hell of a lot longer than you think it would if you’ve never done it before. I mean, thank goodness, by that point I’d left Nickelodeon and was working fulltime on the book. I mean, I thought it might take me six weeks to do the illustrations. It took, and this is fulltime, it took the best part of three and a half, four months to get them all done. I’ve gotten faster.

So this is literally the time involved. But the other part of it is it actually completely changed the way you think about how to structure your prose. Because you no longer need your prose to do as much heavy lifting as you might. You can decide as you go. And write the manuscript first and actually leave spaces for where the illustrations will go. And so that meant that there were certainly times where I didn’t actually have to do a paragraph of descriptive text. I could say, I could introduce a character, literally just put an image of them and have a couple of little arrows pointing to them to point out particular features of them rather than having to do a full descriptive piece about them.

Allison

Okay. So kind of leaving room in your text for the illustrations to work?

Mick

Yes, that’s right. That’s right.

Allison

So with series fiction of any kind, as we know, you end up with some pretty solid deadlines. Like you might have a little bit longer to do your first one because you haven’t really locked it in. You generally go with your full manuscript written or whatever. But once you’ve done that, and particularly when your books are coming out every six months, as I believe these are –

Mick

Yes, that’s right.

Allison

– you are up against some really hard deadlines. Now have you found that writing and illustration process, has that been more stressful with that six month deadline to deal with?

Mick

Look, there’s nothing like a deadline to get you cracking.

Allison

That’s true!

Mick

And it is amazing. I mean, certainly writing, I write generally at home. And it’s amazing how trivial things in life like doing the washing and checking the mail can distract you when you’ve got to get down to it.

But yeah, look, it is a little bit of pressure. But it’s a lovely sort of pressure. I mean, I really, I just feel very, very lucky to be able to be having a go at this. And I’ve worked in some very, very stressful corporate jobs where you wake up every morning and just hate everything you’re doing and having to associate with corporate lunatics all day long. So the sort of stress that comes from having a looming deadline is actually a really lovely stress to have. So how very lucky am I to be doing this and to have the space in my life and the opportunity to be doing this. So, no, I don’t…

Allison

So true. That’s very Zen of you, Mick. I like it.

Mick

Well, you know, I’m getting on and you chill out a bit as you get older.

Allison

Okay. So let’s just talk a little bit about Squidge Dibley. Where did that character come from? Because he’s not the narrator, but he does drive a lot of the story. And did you know straight away what he looked like?

Mick

I didn’t, no. So I’m trying to think where to begin. So the origin of the concept actually came one morning, my wife and I, my wife Karen and I were having a lovely weekend away. And we were just sitting at breakfast and I was thinking about different ideas. And we literally just over our morning coffee were chatting about the idea of an outsider, this unlikely hero who comes into a story, but actually doesn’t mean to be the hero.

And also we were thinking about what would work in an illustrated book. A book that uses all the same techniques as The Treehouse Series, and Wimpy Kid, and so on. And so we were really trying to think of a really visual character, a character who would change shape and expand and balloon up in different shapes. And burp really loudly if someone shouted at him, and that sort of thing.

And so we sort of got the idea… Funnily, the name itself was actually partly from a name of a manuscript I’d written years ago called Squid Dibley, that never went anywhere, which I’d left in the bottom drawer. And so when I came up with this idea of this stretchy boy who comes and causes chaos at this very strict school, I thought, maybe Squidge, well squidge actually sounds like squish. And I just loved the rhyming of Squidge and Dibley.

So that was the starting point. I can’t remember the other part of the question.

Allison

Did you know what he looked like? Because he’s a very graphic, and he’s on the cover, and he’s quite a, you know, I mean, I’ve seen him, he’s now in your Facebook and all those sorts of things. He’s a very immediately recognisable character once you know who he is.

Mick

Yeah.

Allison

So did you know what he looked like straight away?

Mick

Well, no I didn’t. And in fact, if you were to go back through my last six months of notebooks from when I was still working fulltime, sitting in mind numbing planning meetings and things, I was actually doodling him behind my hand in my notebooks.

And there were some very, very early versions of him where he’s got round glasses, and he’s taller or shorter or wider. But eventually I arrived at something. I wanted it to seem fairly simple in terms of his design. But also very, very expressive. And the starting point is actually his glasses. He’s got these big square glasses that he wears which really dominate his face.

And then tried about ten… I knew he had this very crazy hair. His hair is actually inspired by the Sydney Opera House, is the design reference. He’s got these points in his hair that go out at all sort of angles like the shells of the Opera House.

And then because I knew he was going to be stretching and changing shape I thought, if he’s wearing a lined t shirt, those lines which actually give me a concertina effect when he changes shape, gets bigger or smaller. And so those lines can actually show the reader how big or small he’s getting by how many of the lines there are. They magically just increase in number, the lines on his shirt, when he stretches to a bigger size.

It took a little while, but I sort of have a really simple form.

And it’s funny, actually, years ago I heard someone who’d worked on the design of The Simpsons talking about how they didn’t, with that sort of animation, with things like The Simpsons and Family Guy and so on, they actually deliberately try to not make it look too refined so that they can use that more jokey form. And adults will look at it and go, oh, that doesn’t look like very refined animation. And you can do more in terms of jokes and storytelling by having the character design quite simple.

Allison

And if anyone would like to have a look at Squidge, you can go to MickElliott.me. Because the time you listen to this, that website will have Squidge Dibley all over it, am I right?

Mick

It will indeed! Yes. And thank you for the prompt, because I’ve been meaning to update my website. Or you can always look at my Instagram which is @whatmicksaw.

Allison

Of course!

Mick

Which will have plenty of pictures of Squidge in there.

Allison

And in saying that, your Instagram account has always been highly amusing to me because you have one of the most on brand… People, if you’re looking at how authors can use Instagram, go to @whatmicksaw. Because you have one of the most on brand Instagram accounts I’ve ever seen. It’s so organised. I think it’s fantastic. So I obviously haven’t seen it for a while because I haven’t seen Squidge, so I’m going to go and have a look today.

Anyway, let us switch gears slightly. So while you were writing The Turners, you were as you said fulltime in a pretty big job. Parent, family, all those things. How did you fit the writing in?

Mick

It was challenging at times. And certainly when it came to the second and third book, where I did have much, much tighter deadlines, but it just required real discipline. Real discipline. So I would write on the train on the way to work. At lunchtime, when other people were going out and having cafe lunches and stuff, I would just sit, usually in whatever board room I could find, and type away.

I’d type on the train on the way home again. Get home, do dinners, do kids lunches for the next day with my wife, do all the kind of putting kids to bed and shower and all that sort of thing. And then usually at about 9:15 at night, instead of doing what I would have loved to do, like go on to Netflix or just chill and watch a movie, I would just sit and write until about 10:30 or 11 at night.

And so just with discipline. There’s that thing of just turning up. Just go, okay, I’ve just got to do this. So much as I would love to just chill out, you just have to keep on going with it. But it did, at times it took its toll, but more so if work was a bit stressful. And you know, you actually need your downtime to decompress from that. That was probably when it was hardest.

But again, it’s a nice type of stress. And I did have to keep reminding myself that this is actually a real privilege and a lovely opportunity to have, to know that these books are going to come out. So that’s kind of what kept me going, really.

Allison

And now you are technically a fulltime writer, but you also, I know you do a lot of author talks and things like that, and you’re also still freelancing as a producer, is that correct?

Mick

That’s correct. Yes. That’s right. So I’m really, this last year, since I finished up being fulltime at Nickelodeon, I’m actually just finding that balance. So while I semi refer to myself as a fulltime author, I’m actually still definitely keeping a finger in the pie with doing some freelance producing. And really just trying to find my way with it.

And obviously I’m very, very lucky, I’ve got a very supportive partner who’s fantastic. And just working very, very hard to do all the school appearances and festival appearances and just keep the deadlines strict with my writing.

Allison

All right. So I’ve been lucky enough to see one of your author talks. And frankly, you generally walk out of them bruised because there’s a prat fall and there’s a lot of performance aspect to what you do with your talks. Is that important to you? And do you think that your TV experience helps with engaging kids in that way?

Mick

It definitely does. And it’s one of the parts of the role that I love most. And funnily when I first met the team from Hachette, who were just lovely, that was one of the first questions they asked me. As an author, are you comfortable speaking in front of crowds? And even though in general day to day life I’m fairly reserved and quite introverted, I was the youngest child, youngest of three boys. And the youngest child always has to fight to get heard. So the idea of being in front of a crowd of 2 or 300 people who have to listen to you, with a mic in your hand, it’s like, okay, people…

But I also believe, within those school or festival talk performance, you have to entertain. You have to engage. And I guess also I’m probably a bit of a thwarted actor, as well. I never really was likely to be a professional actor, but I was very into theatre at school and university as well. And so, wow, you know, the opportunity to get up on the stage in front of a big group of people who are a willing audience and very welling to come on board with you, it’s just a joy. And so I feel it’s my duty to really reward them. To really give them a really great show. Which then will hopefully encourage them to go the bookshop and buy the books based on the experience that we’ve had together as an audience.

Allison

Well, given the stretchy bendiness of Squidge Dibley, I’m looking forward to seeing your Squidge Dibley author talks. I think that will be fascinating. Have you got a striped shirt ready to go?

Mick

I do need to get one, actually. I really do need to get myself…

Allison

You can’t possibly not do it without one.

All right, what other kinds of things do you do to promote your work? You have your Instagram. Is that your major social media platform?

Mick

Yes, it is. I mean, I did sort of tinker with Twitter for a little while, but I just didn’t like it, to be honest. And I really wanted, I’ve got a Facebook page, but it’s kind of my personal one, which kind of has accidentally bled a little bit into being a little bit promotional.

But I ultimately use my website. Instagram is the main one that I use. And then beyond that, it’s obviously doing as many school talks as I can. Obviously with Squidge Dibley coming out, or out now, I’ve been doing a bit of media, and that all really helps as well. Just working with Hachette and their publicity team to get the word out there.

But I’ve also done things like, you know, around Christmas time, cold called bookshops and said, hey, can I come and do an appearance at your bookshop on Saturday? And I’ll bring all my stuff and all you need to do is put a table out the front and I’ll be there. So that sort of real grass roots stuff is really important. And even just turning up to bookshops as well, and signing some copies and taking a photo is all good.

I’m hoping you can hear my puppy in the background there.

Allison

I can. Yes.

Mick

It’s trying to communicate with yours.

Allison

We love hearing dogs on our… Or cats or whatever. We also have a random furry animal vibe in the background.

All right, just because your puppy seems to require your attention, let’s just move on to our last question which of course is our three top tips for writers. What do you have for us, Mick Elliott?

Mick

Well, I’d say the first thing is when you start your manuscript, know who you are writing for. So know who it’s for. So when I started The Turners, I knew it was going to be a book for eight to twelve year olds. So the first thing I did was I went and read every book I could that was for that audience. And that gives you a sense of not only the type of language you should be using, but also some of the conventions within the genre.

And it just meant also then, once I’d finished the manuscript, I was able to go to agents and publishers and go, this is a book for eight to twelve year olds. It’s skewed towards boys. It’s like these other books that are in the market.

I mean, that’s really, really important. You have to remember that if you’re trying to get published. That you’ve got to think of your book as being, to the publisher, like a product. And yes, it’s got all your heart in it, it’s got your beautiful storytelling in it, but you’ve got to think of it from the publisher’s point of view. They’re viewing this as a product.

So know who it’s for. If you go in going, oh, it’s kind of for all ages, and it’s sort of boys and girls, and grandmas… The publisher will go, you don’t know what you’re offering us. Know who you’re writing for. That would be the first thing I’d say.

Second one is definitely don’t try to make it perfect from the start. I had a very, very experienced writer describe their first draft as being draft zero. I think that’s such a great reference. Don’t try to get it perfect. Just get the words on the page. Just get them down, then start working with it. Because it’s so much better to have something on the page and then rework it than to be trying to polish it as you go. You’ll waste a lot of time and you won’t actually get there.

And then, the other thing, I was going to say lock away your smartphone, which I think is an important one for all of us in life generally.

Allison

I like it.

Mick

But I would actually say, be kind to yourself, as well. Because it’s a real rollercoaster, the journey, writing a book. And it’s easy to get to a very dark place with it, if you’re not getting a publishing deal or if it’s taking longer than you thought. But just be kind to yourself and remember why you set out on it in the first place. And what was that creative itch that you were hoping to scratch in the first place. And know that you’ll get there. And you might have set yourself a 12-month target and it’s taken you two years. Well, that’s okay. It’s okay. Just keep going with it. And be kind to yourself and enjoy the process of writing.

Allison

So true. Thank you so much for your time today, Mick. That’s been such an interesting conversation. If you would like to learn more about Mick and his books, go to MickElliott.me, which is going to be lovely. And we will very much look forward to seeing Squidge Dibley take over the world.

Mick

Thank you so much for having me. And congratulations on your wonderful book with Valerie, as well. It’s such a great resource for all of us to have.

Allison

Thank you very much. Little promo there.

Mick

Take care.


Comments