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Are You Ignoring Your Best Ideas?

allisontait [1]Please welcome Allison Tait [2], a multi-genre writer who has more than twenty years of experience in magazines, newspapers, and online publishing. The Mapmaker Chronicles [3] is her first series for children, and it is winning her a legion of fans. Book one was Race To the End of the World [4]Book two, Prisoner of The Black Hawk [5], hit the shelves April 1, and book three, the final installment in this trilogy, will be released in October 2015.

Part fantasy quest, part peril on the high seas, Race to the End of the World is rollicking fun. Not since Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest series has there been such an exciting adventure tale from an Australian author … perfect for readers aged 8 to 12 who are looking for some escapism in the sea of contemporary stories.” – Holly Harper, readings.com.au [6]

Connect with Allison on her blog [7], on Facebook [8], and on Twitter [9].

Are You Ignoring Your Best Ideas?

I never imagined I’d be an author of children’s books. When I began writing fiction seriously in my late twenties, I took it all very…seriously. I was working as a features writer at a major women’s magazine and I approached my fiction in much the same way as I would approach an article. I looked around to see where my “market” might be and I decided I would write to “target” them.

And so I began writing romance novels. I figured that they made sense for me—there were definite market segments, I had the right “voice,” I’d read shedloads of romance novels in my late teens… how hard could it be?

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Story ideas are everywhere and, as writers, we need to train ourselves to see them. Sometimes, they might not be quite what we expect – but that just makes them more exciting!

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As it turned out, it was a lot harder than I thought. I really struggled to stay within the set word counts. I either tried to stuff too much into the story and the romance disappeared into a series of “themes,” or I concentrated on the romance to the point that my couple was breaking up over breakfast and back together by morning tea.

I wasn’t wrong about the voice though, and it did win me a mentor in a romance writing competition. On day one, she began suggesting, ever so gently, that I look at writing “bigger” stories. By the end of my six-week program she was bluntly telling me that romance wasn’t for me and I should try commercial women’s fiction.

With nothing to lose, and two romance manuscripts consigned to a drawer, I took her advice and began the long and arduous process of learning to write ‘commercial’ fiction. I completed two full-length (90,000+ words) manuscripts, one of which went very close to publication and the second of which I was redrafting when—I had an idea.

I have two boys, now aged eight and 11, and they are both fans of the “head-hurting” question. We have long-and-involved conversations about where space ends, how high the stars are, whether there are any places in the world that remain unexplored, which dwarf from The Hobbit I would invite to a dinner party… you get the idea.

Several of those conversations, close together, led to an idea that left me with a strange, tingling feeling.

“How far does space go?” asked Mr11, one night. “Nobody knows,” I answered.

Then the next night: “How did they map the world?”

“Well, they had to go out there and find out,” I answered, distractedly, thinking about the pasta boiling over on the stove.

“They must have been brave,” he answered.

“They were,” I said, rescuing dinner as I spoke. And then, in one of those moments of pure parental genius: “They would have felt exactly as we feel looking out into space, not knowing how far it goes or what’s out there.”

And just like that, in my mind I saw a race to map the world, and a boy who really didn’t want to go.

But I’d never written for children before. I had, of course, read hundreds of children’s books, of all shapes and sizes, for all ages and stages, for myself and with my boys. I knew exactly the kind of story that we love to read around here, with good guys and bad guys, a journey, a mystery, and a sense of humour. Grand adventure stories that sweep you away from your safe, cozy bed and take you into other worlds.

But I’d never considered writing one, and hadn’t the faintest idea where to begin…

So I tucked that idea, the one that had given me tingles, into the back of my mind, and got on with writing my women’s novel. It nagged at me, that race to map the world, but I was busy pursuing other goals, and, frankly, I just wasn’t sure what to do with it.

And then, one day, I had a conversation with my agent. We were discussing what my next project might be—I was looking at a non-fiction book, I had an idea for another novel. Just as we were saying our goodbyes, she said, “I don’t suppose you’ve got a middle-grade idea, do you? I’m being asked for manuscripts.”

“We-e-elll,” I said slowly, “I’ve got this random idea about maps.”

“Send me a synopsis,” she responded.

At this point, I need to highlight the fact that I’m not a plotter. I couldn’t send a synopsis because I had no idea what was going to happen.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “NaNoWriMo starts next week. I’ll write the book and we’ll see what you think.”

And so began the wildest ride of my writing career. Writing The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race To the End Of The World was the most fun I’ve ever had sitting at my desk. I LOVE writing for children, and I might never have discovered that had I continued to ignore that crazy idea just because I’d never done it before.

Two years almost to the day that I began that first draft of The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race To the End of the World, it was published by Lothian Books. Book two, Prisoner of the Black Hawk, was just published, and book three (the final installment in this trilogy) will be released later this year.

And, having spent the last 12 months immersed in the Mapmaker world, I am now editing that adult novel, which is still there, waiting patiently.

I have learnt three main lessons from this publishing adventure:

What “little tingles” and “head-hurting questions” have you paid attention to (that you’re glad you did)?