Imogen Cooper, senior editor at Chicken House Publishing and founder of the new Golden Egg Academy for unpublished writers for children, ran her first weekend workshop on Mapping Your Novel last month. Rowena House was one of ten writers to put their completed manuscripts to the test. Here she tells about the workshop:
I first heard Imogen talking about her Book Maps© at Winchester last summer and immediately liked the sound of them. Basically, the idea is to get writers to see their books from an editor’s point of view. To look at the big picture and spot any holes in it. To see the core of the novel and make sure that everything is connected to it. So when the Golden Egg Academy offered unpublished authors the chance to map their books under the expert eye of Imogen and her fellow Chicken House editor, Christine O’Brien, I sent in my money and my map (a breakdown of plot, clues, dramatic highlights etc) and turned up on Imogen’s doorstep on a freezing Saturday morning.
We spent the first day getting to grips with the concept of mapping. My group analysed Sally Gardner’s Maggot Moon and the Book Maps of two works-in-progress. By the end of the day I felt pretty punch-drunk on ideas, but the sessions must have got the neurons firing because when I woke up on Sunday I could answer Imogen’s three core questions (what’s the plotline; what’s the emotional driver; what’s the message?) with a lot more precision. And that really helped me get the most out of the Sunday, which focused on our own work.
Sunday included a no-holes-barred review of the state of the publishing industry from Beverley Birch (previously Commissioning Editor for Hodder Children’s Books who was also very generous with her time and advice afterwards) and the all-important, in-depth one-to-one with Imogen or Christine. They’d already read our Book Maps, a synopsis and three chapters so they had a good handle on our stories.
For me, the one-to-one was the jewel in the crown. Unlike the hectic fifteen minutes you get at writers’ conferences, Imogen had time to talk about structure, style and themes, my excess of sub-plots and possible fixes. Not only did this help me think through the problems with my current manuscript, it also inspired me to think more deeply about how to approach my next book. As a result, I’m developing a Book Map for my new m/s. I just hope that someone tells my characters that this time I’m in charge!