Why “How to Bee” is creating such a buzz – PLUS great writing tips

How to Bee, the new book for readers aged 8-12 by Bren MacDibble has been creating quite a buzz in bookstores, libraries and homes … and that’s no surprise.

Dealing with a contemporary concern, the extinction of bees, the main character, Peony has such a unique voice and fierce, determined personality that she quickly draws you into her story.

I’ll be telling you more about How to Bee and my thoughts on it later, but first, Bren MacDibble has some great writing tips based on how she created this wonderful book.

BREN’S TOP WRITING TIPS

1.  The setting for How to Bee was a future world that evolved over time via facts picked up from reading articles and attending cons and listening to people speak on food security. So my tip is pay attention to interesting things, and things that are important. Nothing is more important to us right now than climate change and food security, so why not set a book in a world that shows the effects of our current direction? Kids are not deaf and blind, they worry about things like this too. A book showing possible effects of bee loss can help them think about those fears in a non-threatening way.

2. How to Bee has a very direct plot line. It’s for 8 to 12 year olds and it is tightly focussed on what the main character wants, and she drives the plot like she’s got hold of a bulldozer and can’t reach the brake. The plot pretty much just goes forwards, with a couple of pauses to catch the reader up on how things got this way. So there’s a straight path through the story, keeping the reader following, even though it’s set in a complex world they’ve never seen before.

3. How to Bee is in first person so the voice of a 9 year old girl who’s never been to school a day in her life and only lived in an orchard, can never let up. She’s the narrator. It’s in her head. It’s in her dialogue, and it’s different to the dialogue of the people around her, except the other kids on the orchard. I can’t tell her story in my voice, I’m too old and have a different vocabulary. Her vocabulary is simple and full of slang, and shaped by the children around her. Find your protagonist’s real and honest voice and use it.

4.  Likewise, her point of view can never let up. Peony is determined and strong, but she is naive. There are things about her mother, or people she doesn’t know that she can’t hope to understand, and when she guesses, she’s often wrong, and that’s okay, because it’s honest. Don’t put adult thoughts in your protagonist’s head. Be honest.

5.  Thinking about everyone in a new world, and what they might value, can add surprising details that add colour to world-building. Like that all the orchard children are named after fruit and flowers because they are what’s precious in this new world. Likewise, for the very rich, life had not changed at all. They were able to insulate themselves and afford the rising food prices, whereas middle and low income people mortgaged their homes and quickly join the ranks of homeless poor. Of course neither of these things can be said from the point of view of a child narrator, but they are shown to a point and left to the observant reader to figure out. When Peony meets Esmeralda, one of the first things she says is, “What kind of name is that?” You or I might think Peony, Pomegranate, and Mangojoy are strange names but in this world, the name Peony thinks is strange is the old name of Esmeralda. There should be a logical flow-on to the whole world if values change.

WHY I LOVED “HOW TO BEE”

Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. Real bees are extinct, and the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand.

Sometimes bees get too big to be up in the branches, sometimes they fall and break their bones. This week both happened and Foreman said, ‘Tomorrow we’ll find two new bees.’

Peony’s greatest wish is to be one of them … but nothing is ever certain in her world.

In How to Bee, author Bren MacDibble has taken us so deeply into this world of the future, that as readers we feel we are truly part of it.

We desperately want things to work out for Peony, but when her mother takes her off to the city, we know there’s going to be trouble ahead.

In spite of her fierce dislike of living in the ‘urbs’, Peony forms a friendship with rich city girl Esmeralda that transforms both their lives.

Peony’s voice is so strong and unique that you can hear her in your head and picture her as if she were standing in front of you..

“I wrap my body around it like I am the tree and the tree is me, and hang on.”

There’s plenty of action in How to Bee, but it also has vulnerable sensitive moments that allow the reader to reflect on Peony and her situation and empathise with her story.

How to Bee is sad and poignant and joyous and life affirming all at once.

Peony deals with some difficult realities in How to Bee, but many children have hardship in their lives. Some will relate, others will gain greater understanding by sharing Peony’s journey. All will admire her resilience.

How to Bee is a story of love and hope. It’s about the things you can’t choose in your life, and the choices you can make.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with Peony. With her grit and determination, her hard edges, her courage and her capacity to love.

How to Bee is a great read for anyone who likes strong, unique characters, an original plot and a story world that’s so real and fascinating that you want to stay in it.

How to Bee is published by Allen & Unwin.

Rainbow Street Pets – A Kid’s Book for Animal Lovers of All Ages

UnknownI know that this week I said I’d talk about how to work out which writer’s festivals to attend.  But being an animal lover from way back, I’m afraid I’ve been side tracked by Wendy Orr’s gorgeous Rainbow Street Pets.

Rainbow Street Pets is a collection of six stories for kids about all sorts of animals from a guinea pig to a lion cub.

The stories include Lost Dog Bear, Nelly and the Dream Guinea Pig, Mona and the Lion Cub, Buster the Hero Cat, Stolen: A Pony Called Pebbles, and Bella the Bored Beagle.

Each animal is special. Each story is full of action, great characters and a happy outcome.

At the Rainbow Street Shelter a cockatoo will greet you and a little round dog will make you welcome. All the animals there need children to be their friends. Meet Bear the border collie, Buster the marmalade cat, and Bessy the goat, as well as rabbits and guinea pigs and mice. There’s even a pony called Pebbles, but where does a lion cub fit in?

When I was a kid, I always dreamed of finding a runaway horse, and that’s exactly what happens in Stolen: A Pony Called Pebbles.

IMAG4165I think one of the things that resonates about these stories is their authenticity – the fact that author Wendy Orr clearly loves animals and that she knows what it feels like to be a kid who’s desperate for a pet.

The stories also trace the lives of the pet’s young owners and the very real issues they face. There are strong friendships between them and these link the stories together seamlessly. There are also Mona, Bert, Gulliver and the other characters from Rainbow Street Animal Shelter who appear throughout.

Apart from being a great read, one of the most important things about this book is that it teaches kids about pet ownership and the responsibilities of having a pet, but in a non-didactic way.

IMAG3188Showing the feelings, experiences and emotions of the animals allows the reader to see their points of view and understand that they have special needs that must be met.

Rainbow Street Pets is a book that the whole family can enjoy together. If you’re an animal lover like me, you’ll love these stories.

Rainbow Street Pets is written by Nim’s Island author, Wendy Orr and published by Allen & Unwin.

Next week, tune in for my promised post about Writer’s Festivals 🙂

Rebecca James Talks Writing from Multiple Viewpoints

James, RebeccaToday I’m pleased to welcome bestselling author, Rebecca James who has written her latest novel from multiple viewpoints, and is talking about it here on DeeScribe Writing.

Rebecca is the author of Beautiful Malice, Sweet Damage and her most recent work, Cooper Bartholomew is Dead.

REBECCA’S INSPIRATION FOR COOPER BARTHOLOMEW IS DEAD

I guess in an immediate and simple sense I wanted to write about the death of a genuinely nice and well-loved boy. But I also wanted to write about family secrets and troubled friendships and love and betrayal and jealousy and resentment and fear. All these strong human emotions. I love thinking about them and I love writing about them.

WRITING IN MULTIPLE VIEWPOINTS

I decided to write in four different voices when I started thinking how a single event or situation can be seen so many different ways depending on who is doing the looking. We all ‘see’ things from the narrow prism of our own experience, our own prejudices and desires and emotions. It’s almost as though everything that happens around us becomes part of our own story.

As I started writing Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead I realised that this was not only Cooper’s story, it was also Sebastian’s story, and Claire’s and Libby’s too. It made sense to let them each have a voice.

Unfortunately, though, I don’t know that I have any concise or clever tips on how to do this.  Writing is hard! I would definitely say, though, that it helps to try and inhabit each character as much as you can while writing — it’s all a matter of empathy!

From a more mechanical point of view it will make the different voices more distinct if they use different vocabulary, sentence length, slang, things like that.

9781743319239 (1)COOPER BARTHOLOMEW IS DEAD REVIEWED

Cooper Bartholomew is Dead is a fast-paced read that’s full of great characterisation, tension and surprises.

Killing one of your main characters on the first page is always risky, but Rebecca James manages to connect the reader with Cooper and use his death to make us want to know how he died.

Cooper is a very likeable guy who sadly has just found the girl of his dreams before his unfortunate demise. She’s the one who refuses to believe that his death was suicide.

Libby is the other main point of view character in Cooper Bartholomew is Dead. She believes that just because Cooper was found at the foot of a cliff, that doesn’t mean he took his own life. And why would he? He has Libby, a job he loves, plans for a future business and good friends.

But when she delves into the circumstances surrounding Cooper’s death, Libby discovers secrets about him and his past that shake her beliefs, and make her realise there’s a lot she didn’t know about him.

Cooper Bartholomew is Dead is told from four points of view. There are the main characters, Cooper and Libby, and secondary characters, Claire and Sebastian.

The author cleverly distinguishes between them by writing the main characters in first person present tense, and the secondary characters are in third person past tense.

The story also moves between the present and the past showing the events that happened up to Cooper’s death and the fall out from it.

The characters in this book are beautifully crafted with flaws, fears and qualities that make them multidimensional and as readers, we care about every single one of them.

This is a gripping story of love, betrayal, friendships and family. The story centres around a group of late teens so it could be read as YA or new adult.

The dialogue, interaction and dilemmas are authentic and engrossing.

The author of Beautiful Malice and Sweet Damage, Rebecca James shows us once again that she is a master at combining complex plotting and intriguing characters to produce a compelling read.

Cooper Bartholomew is Dead is published by Allen & Unwin and is priced at $19.99 RRP. It is recommended for readers aged 16+.