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The Night We Bagged Magic: writing for young children with Elizabeth MacKay – 3 April 2019

There was no escaping magic, when Elizabeth MacKay took centre stage for Young Children’s Fiction. The writer from Dalry in Ayrshire, has achieved success with approximately 300 published stories and articles.

A warm welcome was expertly provided by Linda Brown, Joint President, describing Betty as an acclaimed children’s author of three books; Wee Granny’s Magic Bag, published 2011; Wee Granny and the Ceilidh, 2015; and Wee Granny’s Magic Bag and the Pirates, 2018, published by Picture Kelpies, the children’s imprint of main publisher, Floris Books. Betty is also a prolific writer, with many articles published in women’s magazines including People’s Friend and Women’s Weekly.

In her introduction, to a full room, Betty advised never to leave work in a drawer, but, to take heed of critique, leave our comfort zones and do something with it. Wee Grannies Magic Bag won first prize at the Scottish Association of Writers conference (SAW) before being accepted for publication.

With facts and figures, Betty explained that half of pre-school children are never read a bedtime story and a quarter don’t possess books. Through research, the benefits of bedtime stories include; allowing both children and parents to unwind; time and contentment for the child to enjoy undivided attention; an opportunity to discuss topics with parent and child speaking together; and for children to pick up technical aspects such as reading left to right and turning the page. According to teachers, children with books at home have good concentration and sit for longer.

‘How do you become a children’s author?’ Three essential attributes were described; passion, research and a very thick skin!

We were then drawn, firstly and entertainingly, into the enchantment of writing for children, with useful advice;

Character or Plot? Children associate with a good named character, such as a pet, teacher, or toy. If something new, original, unthreatening and written well, then the child will believe, for, despite knowing it’s not true, the child will slip into the imaginary world.

Always respect children and don’t invent innuendos intended for adults!

Children love a ‘baddie’, but always scale it, dependent on age. Be careful to avoid cruelty, viciousness and violence!

Stories can create a safe world for children including morality, kindness, justice, injustice, right and wrong. Create a colourful, happy world.

Children love adventures and must always be the ones to solve the problems, (but may need a responsible adult keeping a safe distance).

Issues; don’t be afraid to discuss food banks, one-parent families, housing estates, brother or sister with disability, different ethnic backgrounds, stories ‘with an edge’. Publishers want diversity,

Then publication; …

If the written story is accepted for publication, publishers will ask about promoting our book; i.e. will need to be sales reps. and children’s entertainers including various options; social media, the writing community, schools, libraries, festivals; …

and finally, when published, on entering children’s imaginative world; …

the need ‘to develop a thick skin’, ‘keep feet firmly on the ground’ and to never ask ‘did you like that story?’ when meeting the audience. Humorous examples were included plus advice on being an entertainer!

Many thanks to Elizabeth MacKay for a thoroughly enjoyable, informative and truly mind stretching two hours in ‘Wee Grannie’s’ world, filled with magic bags, pirates, talking animals and toys, adventures, goodies and baddies. We wish you continued success and hope to be a part of it again soon …

Carolyn Ann Watts

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