Monday 18 June 2012

Spilling ink, A Young Writer’s Handbook by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter Reviewed by Lynda Waterhouse

There are a myriad of ‘How to Write books’ on the market for adults and lots of educational texts for teachers to help children to meet their writing targets. However there are not many guides written specifically for young writers. Spilling ink is one of the few.
It is interesting how books come into your life. I have a network of friends and one of the first questions we always ask when we meet is ‘what are you reading? ’ I read reviews and browse bookshops waiting for a cover or a sentence to seduce me into buying and reading.
I discovered this book on a recent trip to America where I met one of the authors of the book, Anne Mazer. We spent a glorious afternoon at a bird sanctuary close to Ithaca talking endlessly about the creative process, writing for young adults and the pleasure and pain of being a writer. We did a book swap and I returned to London with Spilling Ink. I really liked Anne but what if I didn’t like the book?
I started reading it on the tube and was instantly hooked. I even committed the schoolgirl error of laughing out loud as I read it.
In the introduction Ellen Potter sums up the sprit of the book.
In this book, Anne and I are going to tell you some things about writing that we wish someone had told us when we were kids. We are not going to tell you that you need to follow certain rules and write outlines in order to write great stories. That would be far too easy.
At the beginning of the book there is an Official Writer’s Permission Slip for the reader to fill in which grants you permission to write anything, that means he/she can write “This is stupid” a thousand times over…. Or anything else you want to write. The mere act of filling this in will be liberating for some children.
 The book is divided into three parts; Ready, Set, Go. Crafting Your Story and The Writer’s Brain. Each of these parts is divided into further sections with titles that range from ‘How to Write Dialogue, Title Tattle and Belly Buttons ( are you an innie or an outie, a more-is-better or less-is more-writer). The structure makes the book very easy to dip into. Some pages also contain ‘I dare you!’ writing challenges or additional notes and tips including  ‘danger, danger!' warnings such as:
When you are writing stories, never ever reveal deep, dark secrets that your friend has told you in confidence. Being a writer gives you tremendous power, so use it carefully. If you don’t believe me read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. 
This book could be a life saver for a young writer whose creativity is being stifled by the current pedagogy in our schools. It is full of practical advice and useful ideas to get the creative juices flowing.
In the book Anne says;
The words 'creative process’ remind me of individually wrapped cheese slices. Nothing could be neater, blander or more boring….Can you imagine anything less like creativity? The creative process is never a neat orderly progression from idea to finished story…When I think of the way I write, I think of a cave and a flashlight. The cave is the idea I want to explore. The flashlight is my interest in the idea.
Both authors share their own writing experiences in an honest and insightful way reminiscent of Stephen King's brilliant book, ‘On Writing.’
The tone of this book is finely balanced between the deceptively light and profound insights about writing  that I wish someone had told me as a kid. There is no the faintest whiff of adult condescension.
The book ends with the words
You words can change the world
This is the ideal book to recommend to children and young adults who want to write.
Spilling ink; A Young Writer’s Handbook is published by Roaring Brook Press
ISBN 978-1-59643-628-2



Pat Henry said...

This is an excellent book for writers, readers, anyone! I read and re-read it three times. An easy, thoughtful, insightful look into writing for fun. Anne and Ellen did an amazing job and I've given this book to my nine-year-old daughter, too!

Jackie Marchant said...

I know a few young writers, I'll be recommending this book to them!

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