Sue Lancaster, The Newest Addition to CWLA

We’re excited to announce that Sue Lancaster has joined us at CWLA. Sue has a background in TV production but since starting her own family in London, she has been writing full-time around childcare. Alongside her numerous honourable mentions, Sue won first place in the 2020 Writers’ Weekend Picture Book competition, came fourth overall in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Holiday Contest 2019 and was long-listed for last year’s Write Mentor Children’s Novel Awards. We’re very excited to be working with Sue on her book ideas! See our interview with Sue below, where she reflects on her experience and shares the tips and knowledge that she has acquired over the years.

  1. Do any of the books you write come from your own childhood?

My childhood definitely plays a part in shaping the books I write. Where I grew up, the pets I had, my school-life, my family and friendships, are all important experiences that I draw upon in my writing.

  1. What are your top tips for writing a children’s book?

Read widely within the genre you want to write, especially books that have been published recently. 

Try to complete your first draft without going back to edit. It probably won’t be very good but once it’s down on paper then you can take the time to polish ‘til it shines!  

Join a critique group. Getting feedback from other writers is really important and you learn a lot from critiquing their work too. Not only that but they form a support network; there to celebrate the highs and lows with you.

Enjoy it! Writing should be fun and definitely not a chore. If it becomes a burden then take a break.

  1. Where do you draw your inspiration from? How do you reflect this in your writing?

My inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. From big world issues such as climate change and the environment, down to a teeny snail crossing a path. I make sure I write every idea down, no matter how strange or silly it seems, because I never know when I might use it or expand on it.

  1. Which people or books have had the greatest impact on your growth as an author? Why?

As a child I devoured stories by Shirley Hughes, Judith Kerr, Jill Murphy, Janet and Allan Ahlburg, and later, Enid Blyton. All these authors played a huge part in my early love of reading and writing. When I’d had children myself, I read them a lot of Julia Donaldson’s books, and seeing how much joy these stories brought to my girls, inspired me to give picture book writing a go. 

More specifically, the tutors on my writing courses – Tessa Strickland and Jo Collins from the Golden Egg Academy, and Amy Sparkes from the Writing Magazine course – have all helped considerably with my growth as an author, as well as my amazing critique group and writing friends who I’ve met along the way.

  1. What are 3 things which anyone starting in your industry should know?

It takes a lot longer to get published than you imagine. 

You will need to work really hard and have bucket-loads of patience and perseverance.

Rejection is an inevitable part of the process. 

  1. What are some challenges you face in your field of work and how do you overcome them?

Like any creative industry, it is hugely competitive, and there are hundreds of other writers out there who share the same dream of getting published. It can be a challenge to stand-out and get ahead, but if you don’t give up, keep writing and keep persevering, then it can happen. 

Being rejected is a huge challenge too. It takes a lot of courage to put your work out there, and it can be disheartening to be told ‘no’ over and over again. It’s important to remember that it’s not personal and that your work can be rejected for all manner of reasons which might not be anything to do with the actual writing!     

  1. Do children around you strongly influence how you write your own stories? How do they influence or inspire you?

Yes definitely, especially my own two children and their friends. I’m always jotting down little things my girls say, or getting inspiration from the games they play or the things they’re into.

When I read to my children, I take note of what raises a laugh or gets a reaction from them. I think about the stories they choose over and over again and why those books get that response.  

  1. How do you help children relate to your stories?

I think children relate to stories that are fun, so I often include a little bit of humour even if it’s not necessarily a funny story. I try to write from a child’s-world perspective and my main characters are always child-like – talking, behaving and reacting in a way that young readers can relate to. I also make use of snappy dialogue, playful language and repetition.

  1. You’ve had a lot of success in competitions, what is your advice on how to best approach entering these?

I love entering writing competitions, and yes, I’ve had some success – most notably winning first place in the 2020 Writers’ Weekend Picture Book competition. However, I’ve also entered lots of competitions where I’ve not even reached the longlist. So, my advice would be this: enter competitions for the experience, but don’t have any expectations. Send off your entry and then try to forget about it. The judging process is extremely subjective, and it is NOT a reflection of your writing if you don’t get picked as a winner.   

  1. How have your writing courses helped and contributed to your career as an author?

Writing courses have helped me so much. Writing is a craft that must be learned and being taught by industry experts and published authors has been hugely beneficial to my career so far. I saw a tweet recently that said you wouldn’t expect to sit down at a piano and instantly be able to play to a professional standard – it takes years of learning and practice – and the same is true of writing to a publishable level.