Growing up in a small town in the UK, surrounded by kids, horses and the magic of books gave author, Shelly Unwin, a beautiful start to life. Luckily for us, she moved to Australia in 2002 and has stayed, devoting much of her time to creating stories with a view to engaging the reader and ‘having a conversation with them’ through books. Shelly is an engaging speaker and delights in sharing her journey with audiences of all ages, from adult writers to school-age children.
Read Shelly’s answers to our five questions here, and find out where she ‘finds’ her marvellous ideas.
Where do you get your inspiration and ideas for your books?
I often find that I’m inspired by a title that pops into my head, and I sit with the title and let it stew until the story idea forms around it. One recent example is Daddy Dino-snore, a title idea I fell in love with. I wrote three different storylines for this title before finding the right one to do this title justice.
Another example is my current work-in-progress, The Scarborough Street Ducks. I live on Scarborough Street and there are two little ducks that are always pottering around, even though we’re nowhere near any water. I’ve been wanting to write their story for about a month and the premise has finally hit me. I have my first draft.
Do you have any tips for students who might be struggling with the blank page?
I love to encourage children to visualise a character they would like to write about. Most of my characters are animals. It is great to brainstorm and ask myself what the funniest, weirdest, scariest or happiest thing could happen to my character. I also ask myself where my character might hang out – somewhere predictable or where you would least expect them to be?
It’s great to have fun with names too. I think a well-considered name can really affect the tone of the story. Is the name silly? Does it have a great rhythm that suits repetition? Or does the name indicate the personality traits of the character?
Once you know your character well, the story will grow around it and you’ll be on your way to engaging the reader.
Which of your books is your absolute favourite? Why?
This is a trick question! You can’t have favourites. It’s like being asked to pick your favourite child.
There’s a Baddie Running Through This Book often feels like my favourite though. I get to take it into schools dressed as a Police Officer, complete with an English Bobby helmet and wearing a moustache. I have great fun pretending to catch the baddie too.
Blast Off! is another favourite. It’s a great mentor text for narrative non-fiction writing and engaging the reader with a space topic is easy!
The videos I’ve received of one-year-olds joining in with the actions for You’re One, and saying ‘a million’ just melt my heart.
It’s really too hard to pick a favourite.
Which of your characters is your favourite? Why?
It’s a toss-up between the egocentric dog in Blast Off! who thinks the whole solar system revolves around him, and the cheeky racoon in There’s a Baddie Running Through This Book, who is somehow lovable even though he has a very poor moral compass.
How does this make you feel when you think about children reading your books? What do you want their ‘take-aways’ to be?
I like to think that I’m engaging the reader and their sense of adventure and imagination. The Baddie book speaks directly to the children and involves them in the chase. I really hope children can feel the pace of the book start to build, and that their imagination races right alongside it to the climax.
The book should also give children a safe place to explore the concept of ‘a baddie’. Discussing their moral feelings can open up conversations about right and wrong.
Find out more about Shelly Unwin and her fabulous books by visiting her website and reading her blog posts. You can also book Shelly for a school visit. Teachers and parents might also like to follow Shelly on Facebook.
Along with the other authors featured on Just Right Words, Shelly Unwin offers some easy-to-follow tips on how to take the ‘boring’ out of writing lessons, and begin engaging the reader, and the writer in all of us.