How to explain being an author to a bunch of kids at a church infant school

Look at this! I was invited to speak at our local Church of England infants’ school by the vicar, some years ago now, and I’ve just discovered the talk I wrote for them. I managed to get most of it out without consulting the paper, and they asked me all sorts of things. Good times!

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Hello everyone. My name’s Alex, and I am an author. I should probably start by explaining what that is, shouldn’t I? Well, I suppose you all have favourite books? I certainly hope that you’ve all read *a* book and enjoyed it! But did you ever wonder who makes up the stories inside storybooks, from the little stories like The Gruffalo to the great big stories like The Lord of the Rings? The person who makes up the stories that go in books is called an Author – and that’s what I do.

I should explain how it all happens. It starts when I have an idea. Let’s say I’m doing the washing up or driving to Ely, when I suddenly think to myself “wouldn’t it be interesting to write a story about some girl Vikings. They’ve been left behind when the boys go off on a raid, because the boys don’t think the girls should be able to fight. But no one realized there was a dragon in the hill near their village, and now it’s woken up, and the girls (who can’t fight, remember) are going to have to defeat the dragon using their amazing skills with needlework and cookery.”

So, I get home (or leave the washing up) and sit down at my computer. I fire up my word processor and I start to write. I write books for grown ups, which means that my books have to be really quite long. This one [holds up False Colors] is One hundred thousand words long, which is Two Hundred and Thirty three pages. So you can see that I have to think up a lot of story to fill that amount of space. I’m going to have to decide what all the girls’ names are and what they like and are good at. Who they’re all friends with. I’ll need at least one boy because it’s not fair on boy readers if there aren’t any boys at all in the book – but I’ll need a reason why he didn’t go on the raid with the others. And perhaps we’ll find out half way through that the dragon is really sleepy, normally, but that trolls are making him attack. So then the characters will have to go and deal with the trolls.

It takes me a very long time to write a book because they can get very complicated, and I have to make everything up as I go along. So it takes a lot of thinking. I write from about 10.30, when my husband goes to work until about 5pm, when my children come home from school, with a break for lunch and a break for coffee, and it still takes me almost a year of work to write a single book.

When I’ve got my story finished, that’s not the end of it. That’s only the start of it, in fact, because at that point my story looks like this [Hold up a manuscript.] I have to send this off to people called Publishers. If they like it and they think that other people will want to buy it, then they will pay me for it. They’ll have someone called an editor work with me to make it even better, and they’ll get their cover artists to design a nice cover for it, and they will be the ones who turn my story into a book and send it out to the bookshops for people to read.

This is how I send it to them [hold up manuscript] and this is what it looks like when the Publishers have done their stuff [hold up False Colors.] As you can see, it looks much prettier, but all the words inside are still my words, every single one of them.

So, that’s what an author does.

I have always had stories going on inside my head, and I already knew that I wanted to be an author when I was 11, but it’s a very difficult thing to get into, and unless you’re very lucky, it’s not something that you can make a living at. The person who wrote the Harry Potter books is very rich now, but most authors need to have another job too.

Also for a long time I thought that perhaps God wanted me to do something harder than writing. I thought he would much prefer it if I went out to the Congo as a missionary, or I devoted my life to ending hunger. I thought that God couldn’t possibly want me to do something that I was good at and I enjoyed, because how would that be any kind of proof that I loved him? I’d have to do something miserable, that I didn’t want to do, just to show him that I loved him.

I was very silly in those days. Nowadays, I realize that God gives people a special talent that they are good at, and that they are willing to practice and work at really hard, because they enjoy it – and he hopes that they will use it to do something good in the world.

For example, I write almost all of my books with gay heroes. When people grow up, they want to find someone to love and settle down with, someone to spend the rest of their lives with. Boys who grow up to fall in love with girls are called “straight”, and boys who grow up to fall in love with other boys are called “gay.”

Now it says in the Bible that God created all people in his own image – he created everything and he saw that it was good. So we know that God loves everybody the same, whether they’re straight or gay. But there are a lot of people in the world who get a bit silly the same way that I did, and they think that if you’re gay you should try not to be, in order to please God. This makes life quite hard for gay people, and other people use it as a chance to be mean and look down on gay people.

I don’t think that’s what God wants at all. So I write books with gay heroes because I don’t think it’s fair that only straight people should get to be heroes in books. Everyone needs to know that people like themselves can do exciting things and fight against evil, overcome all kinds of problems, fall in love and live happily ever after. And that’s something that I can tell my readers even when they might be feeling all alone.

I know that I have learned lots of wonderful things from books. When Gollum saves the world at the end of The Lord of the Rings, I learned how unexpectedly Bilbo’s mercy from the Hobbit – the fact that he felt sorry for Gollum, even though Gollum didn’t deserve it, and didn’t try to kill him after all – that tiny little act of compassion had lead to the entire world being saved. I always think I wouldn’t know nearly as much about good and bad if I hadn’t read The Lord of the Rings.

Books were often my best friends when I was growing up, because I was shy even then and I didn’t dare talk to people about things that were important to me. But I found books that showed me that there were other people like me in the world – that somewhere someone understood me. And that really helped.

So I like to think that being an author is quite an important thing after all, and that God knew what he was doing when he wanted me to do what I also wanted to do with my life. It would have been nice to feed the starving millions, but I was always rubbish at science, so I wouldn’t have done that very well. Probably there’s someone else who would do it better, and quite probably they would enjoy it more too.

I should probably finish by saying that if any of you already know that you have something you’re good at, and you enjoy, maybe you should think about how you can use that talent that God has given you in order to help make the world a kinder place. If you don’t know yet what you really want to do, that’s good too because there’s plenty of time, and plenty of opportunities that won’t even come your way for a while. But I think the one thing I learned was that God doesn’t want you to be miserable. Work is going to be a big part of your life, so pick something to do that you enjoy – if you can – because you’ll be happier, and you’ll do it better than anyone would who was only doing it because they had to.

Right. I think I’ve run out of things to say. Does anyone have any questions?

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Sandra Lindsey
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I want to read about your vikings fighting a dragon!

Alex Beecroft
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LOL! That’s been one of the stories I’ve been meaning to write forever. I might even be able to get round to it now I’m shifting focus to write more SF/F. In the mean time I need to find you again on all my new Alex Oliver social media!

Clara
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Clara

Hi Alex,
I’d like to ask you a question, but the contact page seems to be broken. Could you let me know how to contact you? Thanks!