‘I’m going to be as good as JK Rowling’ – Lancashire author Rhona Whiteford has maintained her faith as she has enjoyed a successful career, selling books for Hodder, with her Ready For School educational books, as well as stories for youngsters aged eight to 11, through her own publishing company Wild Dog Books Ltd.
She has also launched her first adult book – Breaking Points – a murder mystery based in a school.
She says: “I’m going to be as good as JK Rowling. You have to have confidence in yourself. Tell yourself you WILL write that book.”
Rhona started her career as a primary school teacher and after producing an educational leaflet for parents, she caught the bug.
She reveals: “My first break came when Scholastic took up my idea for a book for parents to use before their child started school – Ready for School. It has ideas for activities with the child: reading together, art, pre-writing, the beginnings of maths, games and social skills.
“I then made a photocopiable resource book for primary teachers which was taken up by Stanley Thornes, an educational publisher and I worked with a teaching colleague, Jim Fitzsimmons, on most of the 15 books I did with them. These were seen by Hodder (Home Learning) and we were asked to do some books that parents could work through with their children.
“I even went on This Morning to discuss my book Your Child at Five. I then went on to work alone and my English series of 24 books was published by Hodder.
“I did one book for Penguin and I also worked with Belair, Folens, Harper Collins and Stanley Thornes (now an imprint of Nelson).
“I have more than 150 books published by the high street publishers, spanning a career of 30 years. I am self employed and freelance. I find work where I like and have also written for several educational magazines.
“I am self publishing only my own books through Wild Dog Book Ltd because I enjoy all the process from writing to illustrating and the making and design of a book.
“I have 16 titles – 14 children’s fiction which are stories for children of the eight to 11 age range. The other two are a teachers’ resource book for the teaching of creative writing and a colouring book of Ancient Egyptian themes.”
The mother-of-two’s passion for the literary world shines through in her writing workshops which she regularly delivers at Barton Grange Garden Centre. She discusses many anecdotes relating to the characters in her stories, admitting any incident in her life can spur her on.
Of all her books, Mac is her most personal book, and also her best seller. She says: “My daughter was starting high school and, like any other parent, I was worried about how she would get on.
“Her pony had recently died and we were looking for another for her. We came across Mac, who looked too huge but she trained him and managed him beautifully. “It was this that gave her the confidence to move on to high school without any problem. The idea for the story Mac came from this.
“Another favourite of mine is The Secret of The Tomb, as I had always been interested in Egyptology.
“I showed part of my story to children at a school workshop. The boys were not very interested and so I wrote something else for them, leaving The Secret of The Tomb.
“I didn’t go back to it until five years later and whilst reading it, I kept asking, what happens next? I ended up finishing it on Christmas Day. I just couldn’t stop.
“It became a habit. I like writing as it is addictive. It is great escapism. The world is open for writers.”
When Rhona is not penning her own children’s adventures, she has her nose in other people’s books.
She says: “I really admire JK Rowling as she totally revolutionalised children’s literature.
“In the 1980s and 1990s ,children’s books were going downhill. Then she wrote Harry Potter and single-handedly boosted children’s literature. Now the market is booming.
“I also love Jane Austin, Emily Bronte and Agatha Christie.”
When writing, Rhona uses seven basic plots, which are universal: overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; the rebirth; voyage and return; tragedy and comedy.
She also loves creating characters. She spends endless hours making up daft names and forming descriptions, backgrounds and motives for potential characters.
She says: “Characters are the most important part of a story. There has to be something happening to them and they have to be defined by events and their actions. Names are important. Children like made-up words full of alliteration.
“Also try writing a playscript of dialogue to see how the characters speak and interact.”
Another way to leap into inspiration is to start by writing a description of a setting. She adds: “Think of a place and start writing. The climate, weather, and place all dictate events.”
Rhona advises joining a writer’s group or meeting up with like-minded friends to share stories and get feedback.
She adds: “Once a month I meet with four other working authors. We email each other a current chapter and give comments. It is really useful and we are constructively critical.”
The next step is publishing. She advises: “One handy tool is the Children’s Authors and Writers Yearbook. Research the publishers who have produced similar books. Go on their websites and see how to submit your work.
“You need a covering letter, the first three chapters of your book, or the whole story is under 500 words and a brief synopsis.
“Some authors go via an agent, but be careful what you are signing.
“JK Rowling went round 20 publishers before she got taken up. Agatha Christie also took a long time.
“It is a hard slog. You will get rejected. Several readers will look at a manuscript and look at the first few lines. If they like it, they will read on. They make a decision on the covering letter, synopsis and the first few lines. But it doesn’t matter if they don’t publish it, someone else will.
“Another way is to self publish. Get a professional editor or someone you trust to cast their eyes over your work for grammatical mistakes and repetitions. My daughter told me to change the victim in my murder mystery book – Breaking Points – and it worked.
“There are computer packages you can buy such as Microsoft Publishing and Print on Demand. Decide on a page layout and scan any artwork. You also need to buy an ISBN number if you are going to sell.
“You then need to market your book. Go into schools and read your stories to the children as an experimental audience. You can visit scout groups and use social media.
“Writing is an absorbing hobby, that is so good for you. Not many people cam say they have written and published a book - so go for it.”
Rhona is leading a one-day Write That Book session at Barton Grange Garden Centre on Sunday March 12 and again on Sunday April 2, 10am until 1pm.
The session, which is aimed at writing adult books, is £25 and includes a copy of Breaking Points. To book, call Barton Grange on 01995 642900 or visit www.wildbooks4children.com.
n Turn to Page 34 of Lancashire Post for suggestions of creative writing groups in the area.