Jackie Burke writes about her latest children’s book and her source of inspiration
When I visit schools and libraries, the most popular question I am asked by children is: ‘Where do you get all your ideas?’
Answer: From everywhere, the past, the present, real life and make-believe. All of it is at your disposal to tell your story—including the most unexpected events. Just be sure to notice them!
The second most popular question is: ‘But what will I write about?’
Answer: Write about things you like. Make a list and pick one idea! Without an idea, you won’t write anything at all …
These tips apply to all writers, young and old, new and experienced!
The early part of my writing journey was unexceptional. I have always loved reading books, looking at books, and pottering around libraries and bookstores. My interest in reading goes back to pre-school. I began writing poems and stories as part of my schoolwork but also in my spare time, as I was always full of ideas! I didn’t think too much about becoming a real writer—that was only a dream, and it happened much later.
Now, as I look at the cover of my sixth children’s novel, I am reminded again of my lifelong love affair with books. I marvel, too, at how instinctively I chose to write about all the things I loved to read about as a child, as well as things that intrigue me now as an adult.
Writing for children seemed to fit well with many of my interests, such as nature, animals, birds, music and, of course, magic, adventure and mystery. Telling children that they should write about things they like reminded me of the importance of doing so, and how it was exactly what I had been doing from the start. My first children’s series, The Secrets of Grindlewood, included many of ‘my favourite things’—despite having started out so simply, it turned into an evolving magical mystery of five instalments.
The Harp Maiden series, however, had a very different and unexpected beginning. It is a story in itself! After speaking in a Dublin primary school one spring morning, the principal invited me to have tea with her. She was retiring soon, and I asked her about her plans. She said she was going to find a harp teacher and take some lessons. Once a frequent harpist, the principal had not played in a long time. She was excited about her plan, and I was very impressed. This unexpected conversation lit up my imagination.
By the time I arrived home, I was bursting with ideas: a magical harp. That no one can play. Except a young girl, but even she doesn’t know she can play it. And it’s cursed, but it has good magic too. Everyone wants this harp. Especially the demons…
For the next few days ideas poured out of my head and onto the pages. They were often in a jumble, but it didn’t matter. I would soon fix that. Once I sorted them out, I raced through the first draft—then I stopped. I loved the story, but something didn’t feel right. Closing my eyes, I put myself in the story—what would I do? How did I feel? What did I think? Then it hit me: I love the late eighteenth century. Why don’t I try that? It was a risk. There would be re-writes and research. But suddenly the ideas fit together better, they clicked and came alive. The whole story became more vivid, intriguing and different.
Once I made the necessary changes, I flew through the second and third instalments. With book one coming out in August, I hope to have the other books published soon after. In contrast to Grindlewood, I wrote Harp Maiden in the third person, as our heroine, Evie, is such a central figure to the story. Seeing her point of view was important and I felt it propelled the story along at a good and quickening pace. I was unsure of changing the voice at first, but after a few chapters it became quite normal, and, as usual, I ‘lived’ in the story the whole time I was writing it.
It is extremely satisfying to find something you love to do, and to put it to work. I have found that in my writing and will continue to write about ‘what I like’ and ‘what intrigues me’ for as long as I can. If you’re thinking of writing, do the same—it will take you a long way on the road to writing bliss!
Harp Maiden (Book 1) by Jackie Burke will be released in August 2020, in paperback and eBook form. Books 2 and 3 in the series will be out in 2021.
Jackie Burke is also the author of The Secrets of Grindlewood series, for children aged 8+.