Today is an apt day to officially jump into the blog world. I’m trying out a new exercise (daily practice, bit of fun - whatever you want to call it) where:
- I announce “…and suddenly, Ellis…”
- Then add an activity like “…baked a cake.”
- Then most importantly - do it.
So far I’ve suddenly gone to the gym, bought the ingredients for a veggie omelette, nipped into three charity shops, bought a retro book cabinet, eaten a ‘rose and lemon cake’, bought a (winning?) Eurolottery ticket and started this blog. It’s fun, try it, you get quite a lot done. Some of it rather random, granted.
It’s a teeny lie though to pretend that this blog was completely unplanned. About a week ago the beautifully talented, YA writer VASHTI HARDY approached me to ask if I’d take part in the Writers Process Blog Tour and I jumped at the chance. Sharing my writing process feels like a great way to reconnect with it personally too, so thanks Vashti.
Read her blog entry here: http://vashtihardy.wordpress.com
Right, lets get on with it!
At the moment I’m focusing on two main projects; a series of educational e-books and a children’s novel. I’m utterly in love with both of them.
Anyone who has ever met, worked or shared a long car journey with me will know I LOVE playing games. What better way is there to pass the time than a frantic round of the ‘yes/no’ game? The Teacher Toolbox Series is a series of educational e-books for Primary School teachers inspiring creative teaching through the use of drama games. I’ve written them in partnership with West End in Schools. It not only gives me a chance to collate all the games and exercises I’ve learned, written and adapted over eighteen years of drama teaching but also gives me an opportunity to spread the joy, help facilitate creativity in classrooms and hopefully engage a few imaginations in the process.
It’s an ongoing project with the first book Physical & Vocal Warm Ups for Reception available on amazon now at the special-offer price of only £1.53. (Baaaargain!)
(Ahem.) Enough plugging. More information on the Teacher Toolbox Series coming soon.
I love this book. I am Paul, basically. It’s been a wildly exciting opportunity for me to live out my alternative fantasy childhood. (more below)
Coming soon to my ‘to do’ list is a new musical inspired by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I’m writing, devising and directing the show (alongside a passionate creative team) for the hugely talented performers at Youth Music Theatre UK
I have other projects bubbling away of course. As an actor and director I’m at the mercy of numerous creative projects pushing their way to the front of my brain demanding immediate attention like children, wanting to tell me what they did over the holidays. I find my creative ideas to be the most unruly of pupils.
In some ways it doesn’t. I’ve always enjoyed reading books that feel instantly accessible, old-school or worn-in. Heritage Hall doesn’t try to stand out or differ but I believe its uniqueness lies in the combination of retro meets contemporary fantasy. (I’m clueless about correct industry terminology by the way so don’t quote me unless you’re happy to be contradicted.) I like to imagine Heritage Hall snuggly nestling in amongst other books of its genre like best friends. A comfy, borrowed jumper that you have no intention of giving back.
Little Lord Paul of Heritage Hall takes place in the real world, but for its hero, Paul, it’s total fantasy. Far from happy with his current home life, he finds himself whisked away into a tumble-down world where he can truly be himself. It’s a fun place with bonkers characters, unexpected friends, dangerous enemies and challenges at every turn. And it’s secret. Somewhere he can escape too.
Why do I write what I do?
I’m a big child. As I mentioned before I love playing games and Little Lord Paul of Heritage Hall is me living out an alternative fantasy childhood. It’s also an opportunity for me to indulge my passion for old buildings and objects. I can’t get enough. For me the inspiration I feel when exploring historical buildings or surrounding myself with fascinating objects never fades. It became quite apparent I’d never be able to afford my own mansion house in the country so I thought I’d create my own and have adventures in that instead!
I might actually have one though. A mansion in the country that is. Wales to be exact. The stimuli for the story came from my own family history. My grandfather never knew his father and was brought up by his grandmother pretending to be his mother. His real mother pretended to be his sister. Apparently his father was from ‘higher stock’ and his birth was all a bit hush hush. I’m the last male in my bloodline (to my knowledge) and if my great grandfather was gentry then technically I could be in line for whatever magnificence was being handed down! It got me thinking – what if I inherit a mansion house someday? My very own Heritage Hall…
I have a writing shed at the bottom of my garden. It’s my (second) most favourite place in the world. (The first being a log cabin in Norway that I visit each year – which is just a bigger version of a shed, really.) In it I keep all my knick-knacks, stimuli objects and books. I feel like Dahl.
For Heritage Hall I covered the walls with pictures of manor houses, grand staircases, tumble down castles, suits of armour, interesting people and stuffed animals. Having a writing shed enables me to really immerse myself in the world of the book. I scour car-boots and charity shops for interesting objects to inspire me and put them in a cubbyhole to stare at. I sit, rocking precariously on my chair legs listening to birds and biting my pen. It’s amazing in there.
My writing process varies quite a bit depending on the project. If I’m writing theatre then I draw upon my acting background and feel my way through the action. I play out each character and situation. For musicals or stylized plays I use a technique I call freeforming which is a little like improvisation. The result is more poetic and lends itself to song lyrics and poetic verse.
Once I have a concept that excites me then I write it. All of it. Letting it go where it needs to and meeting whoever turns up. I need peace and quiet at first but once I’m in the thick of it I can write anywhere. I love writing in inspiration places – especially fancy libraries. I even traveled to Budapest to work in one. For me it’s important to have fun, both whilst physically writing and whilst being the character. If I’m not having fun then something is wrong and odds are whatever is happening in the book isn’t working and I back-up and go another route.
My writing process is certainly not set in stone, but as long as I feel like a wizard in a lab swizzling my swizzle-stick then I’m generally happy, and when I’m happy I find I'm usually more pleased with the results.
…and suddenly… Ellis finished!
There. That’s enough for now I think. Thanks for reading.
Steven Butler is an actor, dancer and trained aerialist, as well as being a Roald Dahl Funny Prize shortlisted children's author. He has appeared in The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium and was recently in The Tempest alongside Ralph Fiennes. He previously starred as Henry in Horrid Henry Live and Horrid and recently played Peter Pan in Lost Boy The Musical beneath the arches of the Charing Cross Theatre. Steven's The Wrong Pong and The Diary Of Dennis The Menace series are published by Puffin Books. Read Steven's blog at: www.stevenbutlerbooks.com
Lisa Goll is a reformed publishing and marketing professional, aspiring novelist and chair of the writers' community, London Writers' Cafe. When not writing, working, talking or doing, Lisa can be found procrastinating on Twitter @LisasShare or blogging (sporadically) at http://lisasshare.tumblr.com.
Rosie has an MA in Writing for Children from Winchester University and has been running creative workshops for children for ten years. She has worked for various publishers as well as freelancing as an editor. She currently lives in Dorset with her husband, cat and two rabbits in a house full of books and instruments. Rosie writes fantasy and dystopian fiction for children and hopes one day to be published. Until then she continues to seek out stories to write and to inspire, while encouraging others to explore their writing abilities. Read Rosie's blog at: http://www.storyseeking.blogspot.co.uk/