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Today I’m pleased to welcome wonderful Australian author, Lian Tanner. Lian is the author of the very popular Keepers Trilogy and today she’s going to share some tips on how she puts her stories together.


City of Lies, the second book in the Keepers trilogy, began with a little pottery tower made by a man called John Watson. I saw the tower in a shop, and it immediately gave me a shivery feeling, the one that tells me an idea is growing somewhere in the back of my mind. So I bought the tower and put it on my mantlepiece, and waited for the idea to make itself known.

It didn’t take long. A couple of days later I was struck by the thought that the tower looked like the sort of place where someone might be imprisoned – where children might be imprisoned.

And there was the heart of the story straight away; in this new book, Goldie, Toadspit and Bonnie, the children from the first Keepers book, Museum of Thieves, were going to be stolen by villains and imprisoned in a tower.

Of course, ideas change as you work on them, and by the time I had finished my outline and started writing, it was Toadspit and Bonnie who had been stolen, and Goldie was trying to rescue them. Not only that, but the tower had become a teetering five-storey house with bars on its windows and two men guarding it.

So how on earth was Goldie going to rescue her friends from this very well guarded house without being caught herself? I had no idea. So I did what I usually do when I’m stuck – a brainstorming session.
I took a huge bit of paper and some nice thick felt pens. I wrote the question across the top: ‘How does Goldie rescue her friends?’ Then I set a timer for ten minutes, and I started to throw ideas onto the paper, as quickly as I could. A lot of them were really silly, but I wrote them down anyway. I wrote down the good ones, the bad ones, the impossible ones, the absurd ones, the ‘maybe’ ones, scribbling like mad with my big felt pens. Sometimes I wrote extra notes, or drew circles and arrows, or put a big red exclamation mark next to one of them. But I didn’t stop and think. I didn’t slow down – I kept pouring out ideas right up until the timer went ping.

Then I stopped and looked at what I had written.

Some of the ideas made me laugh, they were so silly. Some of them were impossible. Others were possible, but not very interesting.

And right in the middle of them was one that was both possible and interesting. Really interesting. It involved a slaughterbird and a smoke bomb and … no, I won’t tell you any more. I’ll just say that when Goldie tried it, it worked beautifully.


You can use brainstorming for practically anything. You can use it to get ideas as to what you want to write about. You can use it to find out more about one of your characters. Or you can use it – as I did – to answer a perplexing question.

You’ll need big felt pens and a big sheet of paper to start – I like butchers’ paper or blank newsprint, because it gives me lots of room to be messy and to muck around. That’s what brainstorming is about – mucking around. Being serious and sensible is very useful for some things, but it’s no good for getting creative ideas. So when we brainstorm, we put our sensible brain to one side, and become playful.


1.  Write your question across the top of the paper.

2.  Set a timer for five minutes.

3.  Take a deep breath and imagine that you are setting off on a mysterious, exciting voyage, and have no idea where you will end up …

4.  Now start the timer and scribble down the first idea that comes to mind, and the next, and the next. Don’t worry about whether they’re good ideas or not. Work as quickly as you can, without thinking too much. Write in lists or in sentences or in blobs or in big circles – it doesn’t matter. Be messy. Have fun. (Pretend you’re a little kid doing finger painting!) Don’t try and spell properly. Don’t worry if the ideas seem weird or silly or pathetic, just keep going until your time is up. Your aim is to get as many ideas as possible.

5.  When the timer goes off, sit back and look at what you have written. Eeek! What a mess!

6.  But now you switch your sensible brain back on and read it through. Probably there will be a lot of ideas that you don’t like, but in among them will hopefully be some useful ones, or some that excite you and make you want to go and write about them, or some that might be good for another story, but not this one.

The more you practise brainstorming, the better you will get at it. But always remember, have fun!

Museum of Thieves and City of Lies, the first two books in the Keepers trilogy, can be bought at http://www.booktopia.com.au/ Book 3, Path of Beasts, will be published in October 2012.

I love using Lian Tanner’s method of brainstorming. That’s how I start my stories too.

If you like writing fantasy stories like Lian, don’t forget to enter our current Free fantasy writing competition for kids and adults.

Happy writing:)


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Felicity Pulman

From January to March, it’s all about “fantasy” here at Writing Classes For Kids and we’re going to meet some fabulous authors and get their tips.

Bestselling Felicity Pulman is our January Feature Author and she’s also generously donating two of her books for our ‘First Quarter’ writing competition.


I’ve written numerous novels for children and teenagers, most notably Ghost Boy, the Shalott trilogy and the Janna Mysteries series.

My novels reflect my fascination with the unknown in our world, like ghosts, reincarnation and time travel, along with my interest in Australian history and also medieval time, and my delight in writing crime and mystery stories.

I often have to do quite a lot of research, which is always a good excuse to travel!  Most recently I visited Norfolk Island to research my new novel, Hearts in Chains, which will be published by Harper Collins next year.  This is a story of a love that lasts through time, from the brutal 2nd penal colony in the mid-1800s to the star-crossed ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and their difficulties in the present.


I recently completed the Janna Mysteries, my medieval crime series for teenagers (although adults seem to love them too!)

Because I live in Australia and the books are set in England, I had to make several research trips to walk in my character’s footsteps and see what she sees on her quest to find her unknown father and avenge the death of her mother. It’s important to create a credible setting, so I visited all the places Janna went to on her quest, including a huge forest, a working farm, a water mill, an abbey (I had to go to France for that), Wilton, Sarum, Winchester and Oxford.  

I always walked with pocket guides to flowers, trees, birds etc so I could identify what Janna would have known.  I found this    ‘dreaming time’ really helpful and often inspirational – like when I took a side trip to Stonehenge. I had no intention of sending Janna there, but when I saw those huge monoliths I imagined a bleeding body stretched out on one of them, and I knew I’d have to use that image somehow. This became the central inspiration for Book 4, Willows for Weeping.  Guide books are often sold at these historic sites, which are also really helpful. 

Even more important than setting are characters, and they drive the other crucial component: plot.  

Authors usually draw on their own experiences when creating characters.  For example, in Book 3, Lilies for Love, Janna spends time at Wilton Abbey with the nuns, learning how to read and write so she can read her father’s letter to her mother and hopefully find clues to his identity.  I used my horrible experience in an all-girls boarding school to envisage a closed community of women and to create the characters of the nuns: the rivalry, jealousy, ambition, loves and hates that led to some of the crimes and mysteries Janna needed to solve. 

Sometimes I wrote something that turned out not to be true once I’d researched it properly, and then I had some rewriting to do.  But I also learned to trust my instinct and explore whatever ‘crazy’ idea might pop into my head (like Stonehenge) because those ideas often turned out to be vital either to the plot or to the development of the character.

Writing the story is the fun part, but after that you have to get serious about editing and polishing your story to make it the best it can be before sending it to an editor – or a teacher!


Writing activity (a):  Imagine that you live in medieval time. Who are you and what do you do? Describe your day, where you live, your family, your work, your mates, what you wear, what you eat, etc.

Writing activity (b):  You live in medieval time and your best friend has been murdered. How would you go about solving the murder without modern technology (eg finger printing, DNA testing, etc) to help you?  What steps would you take? What techniques might you use?  What sort of knowledge might be helpful?

All Felicity’s books, including the Janna Mysteries series, are available through www.amazon.com either in paperback or e-book format. 

 Felicity Pulman is donating two books to our Writing Classes For Kids 1st Quarter competition, so make sure you enter. Competition closes 31st March. See our competition page for details.


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