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Wicked Young Writer Awards: Cressida Cowell’s top writing tips

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First News is working with the Wicked Young Writer Awards to help inspire young people to get writing! The acclaimed award seeks songs, poems, stories, and scripts to encourage young people to use writing to view the world a little differently.

Each year, a special prize giving event is held at the Apollo Victoria Theatre for all 120 finalists. The event is attended by judges and the Wicked cast, and includes special performances, workshops and readings of the winning entries. All finalists also receive a copy of the Wicked Young Writer Awards Anthology.

Our series of fantastic tips continues with advice from Cressida Cowell, author of The Wizards of Once:

My top writing tip would be to read lots, to give you a feel for the way different stories can be told. Also practise writing as much as you can – write, and re-write – don’t worry if you don’t finish a story, as long as you are practising, that’s what matters. Also don’t worry if your stories aren’t very long: I didn’t start out writing books as long as the ones I write now.

You can still do research when you are creating your own fantasy world. Kids often think that ideas get beamed into an author’s head, or that when you write fantasy you can’t do background reading, but many ideas in The Wizards of Once were sparked by books I read about the history of magic, and magical creatures.

You can be inspired by your own experiences. Ideas I had about Vikings and dragons during summer holidays when I was 9 years old became 12 books, and a film and TV series. I had a slightly unusual childhood (I spent my summers on an uninhabited Scottish Island), but the world we all live in is full of extraordinary, wonderful idea for stories. You only have to watch an episode of Blue Planet to see that’s true.

I always begin my stories with a map of my imaginary place. Lots of other authors have done the same – Robert Louis Stevenson drew a map of Treasure Island before starting to write. This is a really easy way of thinking about characters and setting.

Often kids say to me that they aren’t very good at writing, but I know that’s not true – what they’re struggling with is the mechanics of getting the words onto paper. If you can make up a game in the playground, or you tell your friends stories, you can be an author! Get an adult to write or type for you, if you need to. 

Keep an ideas notebook so you can scribble down ideas and drawings. This doesn’t need to be neat, and no one should be correcting it for spelling, because spelling doesn’t matter. I kept a sketchbook for The Wizards of Once for about 5 years.