Alex Riley takes two young rookies into the workplace. Jack and Meg find out what it takes to make it as authors and work on creating their very own books.
Browse content similar to Authors. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
The world of writing is an incredible place
where you can create excitement, emotion, magic,
exhilaration, and endless pleasure.
We're getting all creative as we find out
what life as an author is really like.
What skills do you need
to be a superhero in the comic book industry,
a prolific publisher, or a dab hand at design?
And we'll meet Cressida Cowell,
author of the incredibly successful series
of How To Train Your Dragon books.
Today, our two rookies want to be as massive as JK Rowling
or as awesome as Anthony Horowitz.
I have before me a pen and a sword.
But which is mightier?
Well, if you're tackling a sword-wielding ninja,
then it's got to be the sword.
But a pen - well, it can inspire people.
It can even change the way they think.
And actually, some pens are rather sharp.
Just to be clear, they want to be writers,
and not sword-wielding ninjas.
Hi, I'm Megan. I'm 12.
I'm from Cardiff and I want to be an author.
I started writing when I was really young.
I had a teacher who really encouraged me to write.
I used to bring in stories and she'd read them out to the class,
and I think that just gave me the confidence I needed to continue,
and since then I've just really enjoyed writing.
Hi, I'm Jack. I'm 12,
and I want to be an author, and I'm from Scarborough.
You can't be forced to write a book,
cos otherwise there's no point in doing it.
I've read the Hobbit, and that was an amazing book.
It just blew my mind.
That's what makes me want to,
like, do all of these things
that JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling do.
Jack and Megan are going to explore the wide, varied
and sometimes unpredictable world of writing,
from magazines to novels,
from book jackets to comic book characters,
when we go All Over The Workplace with a pen.
Jack and Meg have travelled from their home towns
of Scarborough and Cardiff to join Alex in Tunbridge Wells.
-Now, you guys want to be writers, don't you?
OK. So what is it about being a writer that appeals to you?
I love the way you can create entirely different worlds
and there's no right or wrong, and you can make something that
people get really lost in and really enjoy and find really gripping.
All right. So, Jack, why do you love writing so much?
I think you can just let your imagination flow free.
You can be really creative
-and no-one can tell you what to do or anything.
It's very interesting to hear what Jack and Meg think,
but what about the people who know them best -
their mum and dad, for example?
I think he's got a picture in his mind
of him sat down with his cups of tea at the side of him
in a conservatory or somewhere, just writing away.
He's got a guitar, electric guitar,
and it's got three switches on it -
quiet, loud and very loud.
And he'll never put it on anything else
apart from very loud.
Megan's been writing
ever since she could hold a pencil.
She writes all the time.
It's her favourite thing to do.
She had one teacher that kept one of the books that Megan wrote.
She said she was going to keep that
cos she knew she'd be an author one day,
and it's her pension.
-That was all very positive, wasn't it?
Come on, then. It's time to get cracking.
So why Tunbridge Wells, I hear you ask?
Well, we're at the offices of Italian company Panini.
They publish loads of weekly magazines and comics.
Lots of famous authors start writing for magazines,
so this is a great place for our rookies to find out
what it's really like to be a professional writer.
Time to meet our first mentor, Jason Quinn.
Jason learnt to read with comic books,
and now he's the editor of Doctor Who Adventures.
Interestingly, Jason used to be a kid superhero in Leeds,
patrolling the streets in his go-kart
dressed as The Mighty Sockstick.
He retired from crime-fighting after crashing his go-kart into a tree.
Just as well his comic career took off!
The rookies are just about to get stuck in to their first assignment.
But first, they need some hero shots.
-OK, guys, this is Caroline.
She's our designer, and she's got all the photos here.
You're going to be doing the cover together.
I'm going to be back in half an hour. I'll leave you to it.
Let's choose an image for this cover.
Jack and Meg have got only half an hour to create a mock-up cover
for a brand-new All Over The Workplace magazine.
The rookies' task is to tell the story
of what's in the magazine at a glance.
-We need a colour in the background, though.
-Maybe a blue?
-Nice bright blue? What do you think?
-it looks like a kind of comic.
-We have the logo.
All Over The Workplace. That needs to go in there,
so this is where things start to get a bit tricky,
-cos we need to start fitting things in.
Jack and Meg's content ideas include
help to find your dream job,
and creative ideas and tips.
-Are you happy with it?
-Yeah, I think it's all right.
I think it looks really cool.
OK, so how are we getting on?
-I think we've finished.
-I think we're done.
It's all really to the point.
How did you find working to that deadline?
-Did it put you under pressure? Did it make you tense?
-It did a bit.
We were really struggling time-wise.
Getting close to the end of the deadline is stressful,
cos you want to make sure you've got everything on there.
It can be quite tough and stressful,
but I think you've done a really good job on it.
Over 4,000 years ago,
the Egyptians were writing on papyrus,
a really early form of paper.
And these days, writing can really pay off.
We spend about £440 million
on children's books every year.
JK Rowling, famous for the Harry Potter novels,
went from living on welfare to becoming a multimillionaire
in five short years.
Roald Dahl, writer of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory,
used to be a taster for a major chocolate company.
You'll need to be persistent as an author.
Even novelist Marlon James,
winner of 2015's Man Booker Prize,
was rejected no less than 78 times
before finally having a book published.
Good job he stuck at it, eh?
For the next part of the assignment, we want our rookies
to come up with some characters for their very own comic strip.
And who's the man to set them their challenge?
Meet Russ Leach, top UK comic strip artist,
resident artist on Doctor Who Adventures.
Russ has worked with top comic book writers like James Peaty
of Batman and Supergirl fame
and Tommy Donbavand of Scream Street, Beano and Doctor Who.
We're on a schedule.
You've got half an hour to do it. So off you go.
I'm going to draw a superhero.
If yours wore a suit, I could also...
We could have two, both wearing suits,
and when they feel their helmets, they could be me and you.
Hello. My name's Danny Wallace and I am an author.
Here are my three top tips for being an author.
If you would like to be an author, tip one -
you can be, right? Loads of people think,
"Oh, I can't be." It's like saying
you've got to be invited to be an author somehow.
You can do it. All you have to do
is have the idea that excites you.
That's tip two.
Think about something that excites you,
that you think, "I would love to write about that."
And then tip three is as simple as - do it.
The only way to do something is to do it.
If you've just got a blank page and you do nothing to it,
it will remain blank.
So think about tip two, the thing that excites you,
and turn it into something, tip three.
And don't stop.
If you have a problem, if you think you're not going to be able
to complete it, if you just want to throw it away, don't.
The only way to do it is to do it.
OK, time's up, everyone, I'm afraid.
How have you got on?
-OK, I think.
Let's have a look at Spring Hero.
So he bounces?
He uses springs to get around, and he shoots springs.
That's my character. That's the hero.
-And then this is the...
Magazines have always proved a fertile nursery for writers
such as Charles Dickens and George Orwell,
both of whom wrote for newspapers and magazines.
-I can see...
-Doctor Darkness, you need to write.
-Yeah, that'd be a good name, I think.
We've got the characters. You've got the stories in your head.
We'll take them out to the board and start, OK?
-All right, yeah.
Now that our rookies have developed their characters,
it's up to resident artist Russ
to turn their rough sketches into a reality.
He's got spiky hair.
-Great big glasses.
-I'll nip off and I'll come back later.
-But remember, you've only got half an hour. See you later.
This assignment is all about telling a story visually.
Russ truly believes that a picture can tell a thousand words.
Let's hope our rookies have learnt that there's more to writing
than just tapping away on a keyboard.
OK, so we've got that mid-ground and foreground going on, yeah?
All right, then we start drawing in the robots.
So how are we getting on? Gosh, this has changed quite a bit
since I was here last. Wow!
How important is the story?
The story's the most important thing.
Getting the script and the story in the right place so that everybody
is doing the same thing, everybody is going in the same direction.
So your editor, your writer and your artist all know what's expected.
I've always liked illustrating things as well,
but I've never really thought about how much goes into it.
-I'll be back in about five minutes, then.
Another one there. OK, so that's our page finished, OK?
We've got an idea about where everything is,
we've decided on the composition of the page
and the action of the story. We can now take this away,
now that you're happy with it, and we'll take it to ink,
and then the text will be laid on over the top
and you've got your finished story page.
A steep learning curve for our rookies.
They've gained experience in visual thinking.
All things considered, they've done pretty well.
How did they enjoy their first taste of the industry?
I think the best thing about this task was making the comic strip.
I really enjoyed coming up with the ideas
and the storyline with Jack, and getting really creative.
The hardest thing was the deadlines,
because it was really hard to get everything done in 30 minutes.
You've both been really, really good.
Just don't be afraid to come out with as many ideas as possible.
Forget whether they're rubbish or not,
but just spout them out.
Deadlines are the key. Yes, you must entertain,
yes, it must be creative,
yes, you must fit the brief.
But it has to go out on time.
The writing business is incredibly diverse,
and includes working for newspapers and magazines,
writing for websites, advertising,
film and television scripts,
even writing lyrics for songs.
Writing can include factual books like biographies of famous people.
Even dictionaries have to be written.
How about ghost-writing for a profession?
You write it and then someone else takes all the credit for it!
There are also travel writers. Imagine getting paid
to go on holiday and writing about it afterwards!
Actually, that's kind of what I do.
Probably best to pre-book taxis in this area.
What about journalism, with all its deadlines,
word limits and lots of pressure?
Imagine interviewing One Direction
and having a tight deadline and a strict word limit
to keep your editor happy.
So, Harry, if you were a biscuit,
what kind of biscuit would you be?
Budding authors Jack and Meg
are each going to focus on one of their own stories
during the next assignment.
Jack's story is about Alex Spring,
a young boy who gets sucked into another dimension
through a gap between his bedroom floorboards.
Meg's story follows young girls Ashleigh and Olivia,
who are stranded on a desert island.
We've taken our rookies along with their stories
into the centre of London,
where they're about to be thrown in at the deep end
in the publishing industry.
What will the experts think of their work?
Ann-Janine Murtagh is the executive children's producer
at publisher HarperCollins UK.
Having worked with some of the UK's biggest publishers,
Ann-Janine is widely recognised
as one of the top people working in children's books.
Our rookies better listen closely
if they want to get their stories published,
as you don't meet experts like Ann-Janine every day.
What we're looking for in a writer is an original voice.
If you've got something original to say and in a unique way,
that's what we want.
The other thing is, you've got to have a brilliant story.
So it's really, really important
that you've got a really good sense of how it's going to end
and the drama of it.
And it takes probably between 18 months
-and two years to get a book out into the market.
It's a long haul.
And you've got to believe in it.
So Ann-Janine's top tips for getting published are...
Original voice - you've got to have something unique to say.
It's not just about content - the structure is also critical
to telling your tale.
Getting a book published doesn't happen overnight,
so you've got to be in it for the long haul.
I know that you've written some stories, and in fact,
my head of editorial, Rachel, has looked at them.
She feels there's a little bit of work to do
before you can actually present them back to me
to see whether they might be publishable.
Rachel Denwood is a publishing and creative director.
She reads about 100 books and manuscripts every year,
so she's the perfect expert to assess our rookies' work.
Jack, Megan, I've read both of your stories.
I wanted to start by saying, they're brilliant!
-So you're both genuinely really, really talented,
and I wanted to read more of both of your stories, which is really good.
There's still work to be done on both of your books.
But I'm hoping I can give you some feedback.
So, Jack, rather than just saying that Alex felt scared,
you might describe something that happens to him.
-Maybe his palms started to sweat, or...
Rather than telling the reader what the characters are feeling,
you're actually showing them.
I think that'd be a great thing for you both to focus on,
because that character and that hero is so important
to bring the reader in.
And then maybe those title ideas that you've come up with...
Well, I think my favourites -
The Underworld Adventure,
Alex Spring's Trial,
and How To Survive The Underworld.
There's one there that I think could work really well.
The last one there, How To Survive The Underworld.
Megan, do you want to show me your title options?
I had Rivalry Island,
Secrets Of Her Island,
or just Ashleigh's Island.
What one do you think could work?
Er, I quite liked Rivalry Island.
-Rivalry Island, I love that. Lots of tension.
So now we're going to move onto something else
that's really important, which is the blurb.
The blurb is stage one of the marketing process.
It's not just about a great story.
A book has to grab your attention straight away
so that they fly off the shelves.
Publishing director Alice will give our rookies
some tricks of the trade.
We don't want to summarise the whole plot
and give away everything. So only a few cliff-hangers,
just something to really hook in the reader.
Really short and snappy, really concise.
So our rookies are really up against it.
Alice has given them only 15 minutes
and a limit of 50 to 60 words for the blurb.
They're getting a true taste
of the high-pressure publishing environment.
Can their nerves take it?
Right, Jack, that's it. Your time is up.
-How did you get on?
I did all the things that I wanted to, like included the character.
Got some rhetorical questions.
Let's have a read.
I think you've done a really good job there.
I love the way that you've asked those questions.
-You get across the sense of fun and adventure
-in the book as well.
-I like the bit about the knack for trouble.
-That makes me like him already.
One thing probably I would look at, Jack,
-is just this repetition of "enjoy."
And just tightening that up a little bit.
But really great attempt at a blurb.
-I think it's going to look fantastic on the back cover.
So Jack seems to have pleased the experts. But how about Meg?
How are you getting on, Megan?
-I think I did OK.
-Well, let's have a read.
-I think that's a really great job.
Really pleased with the way that you've used intrigue.
-I think that's really clever. I like that a lot.
And your opening line about Ashleigh and Olivia -
that's a very good way to hook in the reader.
And when you sit down with the designers to look at the blurb,
the way you've highlighted some of those key words
I think will really help them with the design of the back cover.
So great job.
I loved drawing, and I went to art college
and I was illustrating other people's stories to begin with.
I suddenly thought, "Well, maybe I could write my own stories."
So I started to have a go at writing my own picture books.
Tom Gates, the character that most people know me for now -
that actually started off as a picture book,
and it slowly morphed into a book for older children.
The thought never crossed my mind that this was ever something
that I was going to do.
And also because I'm dyslexic as well.
But I always say,
don't let it stop you.
If you have stories to tell,
find a way of getting them
out of your head and onto a piece of paper.
With title and blurb under their belts,
it's time for our rookies to meet art director Nia.
Ever heard the phrase, "Don't judge a book by its cover"?
I'm not sure Nia would agree.
This is what makes people grab your book,
pick it up and go,
"Wow! I want to read that!"
For a ten-year-old,
I don't want to make it look too babyish.
I want to make it maybe look a bit cool.
-Not too old, either.
-But not too old.
So let's pack these up,
-and why don't we have a go on our own?
After Nia's tips, Jack and Meg are brimming with ideas.
Now it's up to our rookies to work on their book covers
with designers Kate and Elizabetta.
-Shall we have a look at your ideas?
I've got a couple, and I think these are my favourites out of them.
Got some great ideas. I think we should start with the island.
It'd be nice to capture the atmosphere of the book.
-I like that one.
-And get a real sense for the setting.
-And then I think, personally,
that we definitely want to see Olivia and Ashleigh
-on the cover.
What about something like this?
I quite like that, because I'm trying to keep the characters
quite mysterious, actually. Things change further into the book.
We ask an illustrator to draw a quick sketch.
-Do you like it?
With a background.
It's nice, but I think it's too colourful.
-I think this works really well.
-Yeah, I kind of like that one.
-So what about some flowers?
-OK, yeah. Oh, I like that.
-It makes it a bit girlier as well, doesn't it?
You can see the target audience.
All right, Jack, how you getting on?
Yeah, I'm doing OK. We've just done the boy first.
Wow, he looks like he's falling down into some sort of
-crazy different dimension, doesn't he, on that?
It's so exciting and sort of vibrant.
I think you're doing all right. I'll leave you to it.
-Are you happy with that, Megan?
-Yeah, thank you, it looks amazing.
-OK, great. I'll get it ready to print.
-OK, thank you.
So I'm going to carry on doing the spine and back cover,
-and then it's going to be ready to print.
I'm really impressed with how the design came out for my cover.
The character actually looks like me a bit.
I'm really pleased with how my cover and my blurb turned out,
and it's kind of inspiring me to finish the book.
I can't wait to get it done.
I didn't realise that there are so many stages
that you have to go through
and so many people that you need to meet.
I think that the tasks so far have made me
want to be an author even more,
and it just shows me just how much I love writing.
Jack and Meg, you've done so well today.
Really, really impressed with the work that you've done
on the blurbs and on the covers. Great job.
I think if you pick up on those points that we talked about
around the stories, you're going to end up with some
really, really strong story ideas,
really great books there.
So do keep working hard on them,
and I'm really looking forward
to seeing what your final versions are.
Well, that was a fantastic experience
at the publishing company, and finding out
about all the different elements
involved in getting a book onto the bookshelves.
So for the final task we've got something very special lined up.
You're going to be meeting the world-famous children's author
Cressida Cowell, who wrote the How To Train Your Dragon books.
-That's so cool.
award-winning author of How To Train Your Dragon,
has been writing books since she was nine.
But it took her 24 years to get her first book published.
Authors really do need patience.
Her books have sold millions,
and have even been made into films.
One of them was nominated for a Bafta and an Oscar.
Cressida writes her stories in a den at the bottom of her garden.
-Here it is!
I surround it with lots of pictures and photos,
and it becomes a place of inspiration,
and somewhere I don't get interrupted.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I think a great place to start a story is with a map.
And lots of classic children's books start with maps,
like Pooh, like Wind In The Willows,
Hobbit, Lord Of The Rings - all of these start with a map.
I wanted to show you this one in particular,
-which is Treasure Island. Fantastic book.
This was the actual map that Robert Louis Stevenson drew.
-And he drew the map before he thought of the idea for the story.
And he said, as he drew the map,
the pirates came creeping out of the map at him.
Long John Silver with his cutlass between his teeth.
And so it was the drawing of the map
that gave him the idea for the story.
So that's why I want you to go to a local park near me,
where I often go to get inspired,
to see whether you can find inspiration
in those ordinary places.
Our rookies must make their own fantasy map
to help them visualise their stories.
Cressida has taken them to one of her own inspirational hotspots.
This is a park right in the centre of London,
with this extraordinary circle of trees
that is almost like a question in itself.
What happens here?
This is an amazing place anyway,
but make your own fantasy map out of it,
and then come back and we'll look at it and see what you've done
-and how you've been inspired.
-See you later.
-Oh! Have you seen this here?
-The mystical side of everything.
You see that down there?
That could be the magical...
corridor of doom!
This could be like the...
entrance where goblins go.
It kind of looks like a portal.
Or something could live in this tall tree.
-That is creepy!
Oh, look at this bridge! Something could be underneath it.
What's amazing is that you come into a park and you think,
"Well, it's just a park."
But as soon as you start to think of it as somewhere else,
a place to inspire your creativity,
it becomes a magical place where absolutely anything can happen.
And just look at Meg and Jack.
They're writing, they're drawing, they're fizzing with ideas.
Oh, hi! Hi! How did you get on?
Oh, right, loving your maps. OK.
The Forsaken Marshlands.
I wonder why they've been forsaken.
And here, this is the portal.
Oh, is this the ring of trees that we were in?
And so what happens here? This is a portal.
It's a door, almost, into another world, is it?
Yeah, to the nether... Like, hell, kind of.
Let's see yours, darling.
So, this is an island.
Yeah. So, it's got an explored side
where people have inhabited
and then there's a dark side.
Ah. So this is the uninhabited, this is the unexplored.
Yeah, kind of the evil side.
And there's a doorway behind a waterfall
-and so you have to find that.
-Oh, I love the idea.
You've got your world, and you begin to think of the quest
that your characters might be going on.
Because all stories start with a quest, like, for instance, Peter Pan
might start with how are you going
to get those children back from the Neverland?
You then have to put characters into these extraordinary worlds
that you really mind about, that you care about what happens to them.
Maps complete, Cressida will now give Jack
and Meg some feedback on their stories.
You both are great writers,
but you need to start thinking about your plots, your quest.
-Where is it going?
Something that your readers really care about.
You need to start thinking about that
if you're going to write a longer story
because you need to plan a longer story quite carefully.
Keep writing, keep trying, keep persevering.
Everything was just amazing that she told me
and everything about the map
was really important,
to her advice on the story
and what she thought of it.
I think my favourite thing
about the final task was
probably making the map because it
amazed me how quickly you could find
inspiration and how so many things
could come together so quickly.
What's the future of publishing?
Are real books going the way of the dodo?
Are e-books beginning to rule the roost?
The fact is that e-books currently account for a third of all
book sales and most of that is fiction.
Books with lots of pictures, like recipe and children's books,
are still more popular in print.
These days, there are even colouring books for grown-ups.
Some books can now be personalised and you can be the main character,
meeting weird animals and going on crazy adventures.
And if you're an inspiring author,
one of the best places to start writing is on the internet.
Writing a blog about your experiences, food,
animals or sport, for example, can be a great way to get noticed.
So, overall, how have Jack and Meg fared?
What are their chances of making it in their dream jobs?
You're both really so enthusiastic and that makes all the difference
because it's a fun job and I can tell
that you guys really like writing.
I think if you pick up on those points we talked about
around the stories, you're going to end up with
some really strong story ideas,
really great books there, so do keep working hard on them.
Maybe look out for courses, creative writing courses.
Maybe go to art school,
but do something that will train you as writers.
Keep persevering and who knows?
One day you two could be writers.
I have changed my mind on, like, if it's going to be easy or not.
It will be really hard because you need a deadline and you need to
do a map, you need to illustrate it, and all these things!
But it's been amazing. I've loved it.
I think the thing I'll definitely take away from this experience
the most is just how many different types of writing you can do
and how creative you can be,
and I don't think I'll ever look at a book or comic the same way again.
What a wonderful insight into the world of writing.
Who knew there were so many jobs involved in getting words
and pictures out to the public?
Hi, can you just sign it for me, please?
Do you mind if I have a selfie?
-Thanks a lot! Cheers.
Ever fancied being an author? Well come join Alex Riley and rookies Jack and Meg as they find out exactly what it takes to make it in this very competitive industry. First up they visit a magazine publisher and create their very own magazine cover. Then they head to a world-leading publisher of children's books where they have their stories reviewed and work on creating their very own books. Finally they meet Cressida Cowell, author of the best-selling How to Train Your Dragon series of books, to learn the real nitty gritty of writing novels.