The Art of Writing Language Readers

I’m going to dedicate this blog post to all teachers and learners of English around the world! I have written over 20 fiction readers since the year 2000. These have been published by Cambridge University Press and Cengage Learning. Twenty readers in 15 years may sound like a lot, but some of them are very short – only 5,000 words long. My women’s fiction is 90,000 words long!
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I love writing language readers. Telling an exciting story when you can only choose from a list of 200 words (for a starter level reader) is a real challenge. How do I do it? Well, I have to let the words on the list suggest the story. If I didn’t do that, if I decided I had to write a story about a dangerous crocodile when I wasn’t allowed to use the word crocodile – or bite, teeth, dangerous or any other words related to crocodiles – I think I’d go mad.
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But let me give you an example of how I work on a language reader, especially a lower level one aimed at beginners. Take for example, my story Gone! which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009. On the list of words I was able to use were the words CAMERA, BIRTHDAY, FRIEND and COMPUTER. This gave me the idea of a boy, Tom. It’s his birthday, but his family and friends are all too busy to help him celebrate, so he’s feeling SAD (also on the list). He finds a camera, and discovers that it has magic powers. Tom decides to use the camera to help him to force his friends and family to do what he wants them to do. It doesn’t end well…
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With a higher level book, it’s easier of course. My Intermediate Level story Kilimanjaro is currently short-listed to receive a Language Learner Literature Award – yippee!The judges said of it: “Good storyline and characterization. People are set against each other, the elements, and their own personal challenges as they struggle to reach the top. The simple, descriptive language and illustrations supporting the text will keep the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next.”

I hope the readers who are voting at the moment agree! I certainly enjoyed writing it very much, and with the longer list of words and a greater freedom with grammar, I was really able to express what I wanted to in the story.

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Kilimanjaro is published by Cengage Learning in their series called Page Turners, and that’s what I tried to do with the book – to make it really exciting so you wanted to know what happened next. Will the group all make it to the top of Africa’s highest mountain?So, over to you! If you’re learning to speak English, do you read readers like mine? And if you do, have you found they help your learning? And if you’re a teacher, do you use readers as part of your lessons? I hope you do, because that way I’ll get to write more of them!

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Themes for Life, Themes for Writing

Last Thursday, as part of a 5-week WriteUP Creative Writing class on the subject of story themes, I asked my students to think about the themes of various times in their lives. In order to fully explain what I meant, I carried out the exercise myself beforehand, reflecting on the themes of my own life. It was a very interesting and illuminating exercise. Now my obsession to write about various subjects makes perfect sense to me!

So, here are the themes I came up with.

1. It doesn’t pay to try to force expressions of love.
Sums up my relationship with my dad as a teenager.

2. You need to revisit the fire in order to put it out.
Revisiting the place I lived at with an ex two years after he’d thoroughly broken my heart. I wept buckets, but it was so cathartic!

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3. Your best will never seem quite good enough, but your best is all you can give.
Being a mum.

4. When the time is right, he will come.
Finding my man – my safe harbour.

5. You can’t always keep going forward – sometimes you have to stop and just be.
Learning to enjoy the moment as  new mum.

6. To get where you want to go to, sometimes you have to approach from a different direction.
Facing realities of being a writer.

7. Sometimes the simplest things give the greatest happiness.
The huge importance of nature and the natural environment to my well being.

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8. You have to be able to cope with being completely alone in order to be able to really connect with other people in a happy, healthy way.
Learning to be self-sufficient and strong as my broken heart healed.

9. You can change your life, but you always take yourself with you.
Oh, how many times have I moved! It’s been exciting, but I’ve still been me, even when I deliberately moved in an attempt to have a clean slate. Although at times a new environment and new challenges brought hidden parts of me to the fore. Quite content to stay put now though!

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Being entrepreneurial seems to be the current theme of my life.

How about you? What have been some  the themes of your life? Or what’s your current life theme?