Child’s Play: Writing for Kids – a Visit from Deborah Abela

I’m really pleased today to welcome Deborah Abela. here to celebrate the release of her latest book, The Haunted School , and to chat about what it takes to write for children. Welcome Deb!

The Haunted School (Ghost Club)

Child’s Play – Writing for Kids

By Deborah Abela

Author of Max Remy Superspy, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend), The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen, Grimsdon and Ghost Club


Why do you write for kids?

It started as an accident. After studying Communications at UTS, my aim was to work in adult TV, which I did for a while, but then I was offered the job of Assistant Producer/Writer for a National Kids’ TV show and have been writing for them and loving it, ever since.


What are three things you need to be aware of writing for a young audience?

1) Look kids in the eye ….kids will know the second you are being condescending or talking down to them.

2) Don’t preach – be true to your story first, whatever kids learn or take away from your story will follow.

3) Be kid-focussed – let the kids lead the plot and action!


How do you judge which age group your story would suit?

I don’t usually think about audience age when I start writing….I just try to write an engaging story, with characters that kids want to hang around.


What are three reasons kids’ manuscripts get rejected by publishers?

I’m sure this differs for each publisher but over the years I have heard a few reasons:

* They’ve heard it all before.

* It is too condescending to kids – a lecture rather than a story

* There is no real hook that makes the work stand above other submissions


How do you create an authentic voice for your young characters?

I sit with my characters for a very long time before I get to truly know them. Peter Carey calls it an osteopathic click….that moment when your character feels real. It takes time to get to know someone and it is the same for characters. Read your story out loud to hear if it rings true.


What do you do when your characters want to take the story in a different direction?

Let them! When this happens, I am usually a few drafts in and my plot has been developing nicely and I have become so familiar with my characters and know them on a much deeper level than I did at the outset. It’s their story now.


How do you decide which idea to work on next?

There is usually one idea that speaks above others. With Grimsdon, my story of a flooded city and lost children, I became frustrated at how governments weren’t acting quickly or decisively enough on climate change…then the sea monsters and flying machines took over. With the Ghost Club series, it was because I’d been reading about Charles Dickens and his 200th birthday, which is when I found out about him being the founding member of his own ghost club, which still exists today and investigates ghostly sightings.


Always write the idea that excites you the most and hopefully the excitement of your audience will follow.


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