This week we thank wonderful author and ACT State Ambassador for the National Year of Reading, Tania McCartney, who has kindly agreed to share a piece of her Work in Progress with us.

How to Be Eight by Tania McCartney

Wake at 5am.

Wake in a really fantastic mood even though you’ve had only four hours sleep because mum and dad threw a wild party in the back yard last night and they’re now in bed with their faces smooshed into the pillows, snoring like elephants. You know because you go in and check on them. Poke Dad’s face with your finger. He doesn’t move. Push the tip of your finger into his nose. He snorts. Bend down and pick up one of his stinky socks and hold it under his nose so it twitches and he starts to wriggle. Mum stirs. Skulk really quickly out of the room.

It’s still dark. Rummage around in the kitchen until you find the torch. Turn it on. Go to the hall mirror, stick the torch in your mouth and puff out your cheeks. Human face lamp. Use torch to ferret for crinkly packets in the pantry. Turn in horror as Big Sister appears in the darkness. Big Sister threatens to dob.

Run screaming into bedroom where snoring elephants turn into trumpeting elephants.

Time: 5.10am. Bad start to the new year.

Tania, I love the voice of your character. It’s very strong and his laconic humour comes across very well. It has a kind of Wimpy Kid feel to it.

If your character is eight, I was wondering if his voice sounded a bit old in parts like when he ‘rummages’ for his torch. I’m going to address this more in the comments on the title of the book.

I love the image of the human face lamp. It’s very vivid and very funny.


Things to think about.

Using ‘second person’ point of view talks to the reader, but makes it harder to get close to your character. Am wondering if this might be hard to sustain over a novel length piece. It also gives the impression that you are giving the reader a ‘lesson on how to do something’ rather than telling a story.

This point of view adds to the tension but it can also make it difficult to vary the pacing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use it, just suggesting you keep these factors in mind.


While the strength of your character’s voice provides a great hook, the story actually starts off with quite a bit of information. You might want to think about a couple of things here. Is it relevant to tell the reader that the parents had a party last night? Is this necessary to the story. Is that fact going to hook a reader in?

I don’t think you need to say that your character knows what his parents looked like sleeping because he checked on them. The reader will know that he must have seen them to describe what they look like.

I’m wondering if you could start with something like:

It’s 5am and you’re standing in your boxers in parent’s room. Push the tip of your finger up Dad’s  nose . He stops snoring like an elephant and snorts. Bend down and pick up one of his stinky socks and hold it under his nose so it twitches and he starts to wriggle.

Also, the other question I had about the start was I wanted to know why your character was doing this to Dad. Was it to stop him snoring, revenge for keeping him awake, some other reason? Otherwise it just seems like a random act. I’m wondering if most eight year old kids would just head to the pantry.

So if the scene with Dad doesn’t have relevance to the story, then you could go straight to the pantry scene. On the other hand, if you wish to keep this scene (and it is funny) then you need to show its relevance in the story – perhaps it was Dad’s snoring that woke him up. If there’s no reason, it seems unlikely that kid would risk waking parents when his real goal seems to be the pantry and food.

‘Big Sister threatens to dob’ is an example of where this kind of point of view tends to lead you into telling rather than showing. If you had dialogue here, For example, “I’m telling on you Bob, you thieving little rat,” this tells you that the main character is a boy and tells you something about his sister and their relationship.

Even though the voice is strong, you still need to make it clear to the reader at the start, the age and gender of the main character. Using their name is one way of getting this kind of information across.


How to Be Eight is a great title, but as I said earlier, I feel like the voice of the main character sounds a bit older than eight.

Also you mentioned to me that this book is written for readers aged 7-11. Readers generally like to read about kids a bit older than they are, so 10 or 11 year olds might be put off by an eight year old main character. (And I’m making an assumption here that this is where the title comes from). Seeing as your main character’s voice does sound older I’m wondering if you might consider changing the title to something like, ‘How to Be Ten’.

I really love the voice and the humour in this piece, and there’s loads of potential for a great fun story.

I hope you find these comments helpful.

Happy Writing:)


If you have constructive suggestions for Tania, please feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

If you’d like feedback on 150 words of your Work in Progress, email them to Dee*at*Deescribe*dot*com

Please also include the genre, age of readership and final estimated word count. 


  1. I love it, Dee! You are incredibly insightful and I love everything you said – it all makes a lot of sense. I particularly love the idea of upping the character’s age and rethinking the title, plus showing rather than telling, and adding more hooks.

    Thank you! You’re a genius.

  2. Hi Dee – Hi Tania,

    Thoughtful crit, Dee.

    Tania? Can I just give you a huge wooting cheer because this is a great piece. I loved it! This character is fabulous. I adored the tone and the humour.

    I had another couple of ideas for you to mull over; one small point that differs slightly to Dee’s advice – but I’m not sure if this is a an open critique forum?

    Thank you both – this made me laugh. After a long day and night, I was feeling sluggish and wondering if I should take a few hours off – and this really got me buzzing. Very stimulating. Thank you!


  3. Thanks Kaz,

    Feel free to post your comments. I don’t mind at all if they differ from what I’ve said. The aim of this forum is to help writers who post their work and read this blog. It’s always helpful to get different perspectives on things. We writers all write and see things differently so alternative opinions are always great.


  4. Hi Tania and Dee,
    This was great to read today and has inspired me to get a piece of writing up there one day. Just wanted to share something. I know the boy coming into his parent’s room seems random and a bit unconnected but kids do love having the run of the house (when everyone is asleep) and they are terribly random! Especially with stinky socks!! Both my girls tell stories about how they did very similar things to their dad whilst he snored and napped on the couch. Just for the fun of it really. They used to call it ‘Sleep Experiments’ – it was like – how far can you go before Dad wakes up? Loved both the writing and the feedback!

  5. Thank you Dee…

    For starters Tania, I agree with Dee on most points (great work Dee!) and see a couple of other minor points from a different perspective – but I’m (again) hoping that’s what makes life interesting? Fingers crossed… 🙂

    Please know though, that these are simply my opinion…

    For me, this very short piece shows us so much about this character – and I adore him. For my younger kids stuff I seem to specialise in writing cheeky, funny boys – and this kid is wonderful. He is endearingly mischievous and a risk taker – but he knows when he’s gone far enough – so he does have some internal moral-meter, even though I suspect it will be slow to kick in sometimes. It also tells me he’s emotionally secure – and has a good home life. (For me this is a fabulous springboard for great humour.) E.g. A kid who is terrified of his father isn’t going to risk a beating or whatever by testing the depths of his father’s sleep in this fashion – he’d skulk out to the kitchen in a much more stealthy way, and that changes the tone completely.

    Contrary to Dee, I love the vivid detail in the fact that the parents had a party. It made the scene funnier knowing those parents are woolly headed – even in sleep. Two other points here – I love that your last line (‘bad start to the new year’) clarifies that this was a New Year’s Eve party – and not just some random booze-up that could happen every weekend. It humanises the parents and yet removes any hovering questions about them that might detract from the focus. (There’s nothing wrong with having a party any time – but in a kid’s book, having a party for a specific reason works better). The second factor here is that also sets the scene for some very funny upcoming scenes when mum and Dad do wake with (assumed) headaches…

    I agree with Dee on the age of the character. To me, he’s 10. And also that he needs some motivation to torment Dad – though I know a lot of boys (my own son included) who would do this for the sheet fun of it… Still, if this was my story, I’d have him testing the depths of Dad’s sleep so he’s satisfied that he’s got the run of the house. Can do what he wants. Munch into all that leftover party food… Watch telly. Let the dog inside. Whatever… Until, of course, he remembers the party-pooping big sister.

    Dee mentioned Point of View – and I wondered if this piece could serve as ‘kind of ‘ a prologue. It works for me as is – but I agree that this will be very hard to maintain and build a reader/character relationship. It almost seems to me that this is a really funny, quick hook into his world but then the story is about to start in earnest – in maybe 1st person v/pt??

    Whatever you do with it, Tania – rest assured you are so on the right path. You’ve nailed ‘character’ and that’s the hardest part…

    Super congrats – and Dee? Thank you so much for letting me share my own humble ravings on your platform.

  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kaz.

    You make some great points. I love having two-way dialogue happening on my blog so it’s always good to get other people’s opinions. That’s how we all learn:)

    I love this character too and think Tania has definitely nailed him.

    I still have concerns about the party though I must admit. I do think it slows the pacing down and although New Year’s Parties are a reality of our world, it is possible that the party could limit the opportunities for readership. Of course this would also depend on what age the main character ends up being.

    Thanks again for your input, Kaz. More great tips for Tania:)


  7. Beth, I agree. I think kids do this stuff just because they’re kids. Mine did. And that was what I meant by testing to see how asleep Dad was – just so the character could run randomly and do all the things they (he) want to do without an adult stepping in and saying ‘no’.

    Good luck with your own writing.

    And Dee? I meant to say before that is a great initiative!

    Back to work now… I wonder if I asked everyone to judge {on a scale where (1) is ‘Get a day job!’ and (10) is ‘I’m smokin’ hot’} how my work is going today, what your answers would be?

    I’ll give you a hint. It’s NOT 10. Sigh…

  8. Nice work, Tania!
    I agree that this character could be better off being ten years old. The only bit of additional advice I would give is that I would choose something a little bit more ‘cool’ than “really fantastic” at the beginning of that piece. I can’t tell you why but it just stuck out as something that needs a boost.
    Keep going, it’s great and I too love the face lamp.

  9. Wow – everyone! This is SO COOL! Thank you so much for the encouraging comments – so so helpful and yes, I’m thinking you are all onto something with his age. I have a dream of writing several of these books with different ages, even as young as toddler age – thought it could be quite funny, but yes, I do need to think about the sustainability of the ‘voice’ and tense. You’ve all given me ideas, though, with your wonderful comments!

    THANK YOU for this priceless feedback and enthusiasm. It is so valuable and it’s so touching that you feel I have a loveable character – I do adore him already! and just wish I could show you the rest of what he gets up to. Can I share a TEENSY para? This scene is in the bathroom after mum catches him smearing toothpaste all over the mirror.

    …Lean forward whilst standing on step stool and poke at back of mum’s head with toothbrush to test if eyes-in-back-of-head are hiding in hair. Slip. Fall. Grab handrail as you go down. Rip it from wall then swing it around and smash it headlong into mum’s left shin.

    Don’t remember much after that…

    This MS makes ME laugh, and my 11 yo daughter wets herself over it, but I fear it may be too ‘out there’ for a publisher. I’ll keep plugging away, but thank you so much, everyone, for your encouragement. Means the world to me.


  10. Love it Tania,

    Love the eyes in the back of the head thing…something all mums can relate to. Definitely keep going with this. It is hilarious and you do have a very endearing character:) Have you thought about doing this as a graphic novel…this POV would work with that:)

    Good luck with it.

    Dee xx

  11. Oh Tania – it’s soooo not out there for any publisher of kids stuff. of course, as always you have to find the right one – but this is hilarious stuff. ‘I’ write this stuff and it seems the sillier I get the more they like it.

    And I mean, you only have to read Andy Griffiths to see that kids love this stuff. I’m using some of his stuff with my students at the mo and it’s just a treasure trove of fun and laughter. Especially utilised with the Bolinda CDs – I swear there’s not one kid who isn’t intrigued.

    Your stuff is like that. It doesn’t mean though that there’ll be instant publication. There are a trillion variables – but I’m sure it’ll come when you pair up with that right editor.

    Take care and I sincerely wish you loads of luck.

    Thank you Dee for being so generous with your space and time, and allowing us to come in, kick our shoes off, grab a drink and flop back on the sofa with our feet up. It’s what it felt like – it was nice. Thank you again.

  12. Thanks, Kaz,

    I love it when people come and chat ‘here’:)

    Thanks so much for all your input…I agree with you that Tania’s stuff is hilarious and she just has to find the right publisher.


  13. You gals have SO encouraged me to pursue this. I’m only part way through the book, so I guess I had better finish it now! I LOVE Dee’s idea of adding pictures, too – was just really nervous about it being too Wimpy Kid-like and I ride no one’s coat tails!!! I really had dreamed of it being a disconnected series with a new character for each book – girls, adults, all ages of kids, and even animals! I don’t know of any other disconnected series like this – but I guess it’s a matter of finding a publisher with vision.

    Dee and I, in our roles as reviewers and book addicts, see countless books per year – so many that it kind of becomes a blur. For me, the ONLY books that ‘stand out’ now are those that are truly ‘different’ – that DON’T follow the formula (OMG, the plethora of formulaic books I receive end up literally tossed on the floor, with a bout of major eye rolling and a weft of disappointment in my chest). Why publishers are so antsy about taking on ‘different’ books is beyond me. They always do well if they’re done with panache.

    Anyhoo – getting ahead of myself here! I shall set to work and I want you to know it’s because of all of YOU that I’m doing this!!!!

    My warmest appreciation,

  14. Followed the comments with interest. Fascinating!
    Tania, love the feel of your story – keep going!!! And yes, I totally agree with you about stories that are a bit different, that don’t follow a formula or popular topic. I guess there are some publishers out there willing to take risks and trend set (one would hope so anyway!)

Comments are closed.