How I write, by author Julia Lee

How I write, by author Julia Lee

19th May 2014 < Back

Like lots of people who want to be writers, I started young.

I had to do something with all the ideas that kept bubbling up in my head, and I loved the idea of not just of making up a whole story from beginning to end but also creating a book. Above is the first book I ever made - when I was 5. I wrote and illustrated it with my new multi-coloured pen and my mum stitched the pages together on her sewing machine. Somehow it has survived, if not quite intact.

When I was 11 I was given my first proper typewriter, a Smith Corona portable. (This was long before computers.) There was a toy typewriter on the market, called The Petite, but that was just for kids. I wanted - and needed - the real thing, a machine that could stand up to lots of hard work, because someday I was going to be a Real Published Writer.*

Smith Corona Corsair portable typewriter (Photo by Richard Polt)

Even on well-made manual typewriters if you typed very fast two or three of the letter keys would fly up at once and get stuck. You had to untangle them carefully or one of them might bend a little out of place and then that particular letter would never register properly again. I cherished my typewriter – until I completely wore it out! - because it made my writing look convincing and professional. Apart, that is, from all the typing mistakes.

Although I’m not an illustrator I still love drawing and art and craft. I’m fascinated by all kinds of books and have actually been on a book-binding course to find out how to make them. These are two - a sketchbook and a small notebook – I’m rather proud of. The little dogs on the cover of the sketchbook started out as sheet of gift-wrap.

One of the many Not-A-Writer jobs I’ve had was looking after a library of toys and books for pre-school children with special needs. My favourite part of that was creating book-bags to go with picture books, and making or finding objects to go in them just like the ones in the pictures. This included cutting and sticking a glittery butterfly that could unfold its wings just like the one at the end of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and finding mini clothes-pegs and cutting out felt T-shirts and frilly knickers for a book called The Runaway Washing.

These days I use a combination of notebooks and my laptop for writing. Editing is so much easier on-screen than it was way back in the laborious days of typewriters. I use notebooks to jot down rough ideas and work out the details of a story, often in the middle of the night. Sometimes I sketch my characters.

Sometimes I make mind-maps and diagrams to work out character and plot.

I’ve even roughed out a family tree for the complicated Marvel clan in my next book. Here are two of my attempts at it.

There are lots of different ways of making books and everyone has to work out what appeals and the methods that suit them best. But it’s always fun experimenting.

*A real published writer is someone whose books are read by more people than just their mum!

Want a sneak peek of Julia's next book? Download the first chapter of the exciting sequel to The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth, The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard, which will be published by Oxford University Press on 7 August 2014. Download the sample chapter