Amy Sparkes

Writing and Home-schooling

Author of the fabulously fun 'House at the Edge of Magic' explains how she managed to write the book while home-schooling 6 children - in 4 minute bursts!

My review of 'The House at the Edge of Magic' is here.

 

Finding writing time can be rather challenging in lockdown if you’re home-schooling children. Hats off to everyone trying to make it work at the moment. I’m lucky that I’ve been home-schooling most of my six children for a few years, so we are more into the swing of it now. But it wasn’t always so smooth…


I had intended to wait until my children were older before writing a middle-grade story which I felt needed more time and concentration, but I had another baby and then another baby and then another baby (we ended up with six lovely children – and yes, my work there is done now). It finally dawned on me that if I waited until the children were all ‘older’ it was going to be a looooooong time. This was one of the reasons for making a decision, shortly after baby number six was born: I had to stop making excuses. If I was really, genuinely excited about writing The House At The Edge Of Magic, I had to crack on. Surely it wouldn’t be that bad. Right?


Wrong. Baby number six had other, extremely fiendish plans. He decided it would be great fun to sleep in four-minute bursts – yes, four-minute bursts – during the day. And he was absolutely fine with that. I was, admittedly, not quite so fine with that. But I had an extremely fiendish plan of my own. He was the King of Power Naps. So I would become the Queen of Power Writing.


After I had got the baby to sleep (in the pram, in my arms, wherever), I would dash to the laptop and frantically write for the four minutes he stayed asleep. No Twitter. No surfing. No making sneaky hot chocolate. Just writing. I inched through the story and got a very rough, albeit fragmented first draft down. But it was enough to send off to my Agent Of Endless Patience, Julia Churchill. During this time, I had two young children at home, including the baby. Surely the hardest part was done. Right? Wrong again. I’m clearly rubbish at guesswork. 


Shortly after this decision, most of the children decided they wanted to start homeschooling full-time, so as I sat down to try and get the next draft done, it was even harder. Some of the editing of this story was even done in 30-second brain-exploding bursts (I timed them out of curiosity to see if they were as brief as they felt!). It made the four-minute sessions seem absolutely luxurious! I snatched quiet moments when I could. When everyone was sitting down with lunch, I would sneak in ten minutes of extra writing while everyone munched contentedly. Or when the kids had reading time, or (whisper it) some screen time, I grabbed some writing time. (I probably owe an entire chapter to the brilliant Horrible Histories).

 
I began developing shortcuts. Before I was due to snatch some writing time, I would ‘warm up’. I’d focus my brain on the magical world, or the storyline, as I washed up or made lunch. I suspect the children may have had some interesting combination of food groups on their plate some days. Getting my brain fired up meant that the moment I was free, I could jump right in, ready to go, and maximise my writing time.

 
I also loved my early morning solitary writing sessions, when I could get them, although inevitably a small person would join me at some point. But every minute clocked up. Every sentence written or paragraph edited added to the whole. It was hard work, but I love a challenge. And I loved my secret, stolen writing time. A lot of joy and giggling and excitable finger-wiggling went into the writing of The House At The Edge Of Magic. I hope that comes across on the page.

 
Now I’m home-schooling six children (five of them permanently) and we have our own rhythm. It’s not always the easiest thing to juggle everything, but it’s the right thing for us, so we find a way to make it work, and mostly it does. The children are very excited about reading and writing, and about what I do, and it’s lovely that they are involved in the process. They read my stories, test my scripts and are very happy to volunteer an opinion on everything from the strength of an idea to my clothes for a promotional video.


I’m thrilled that The House At The Edge Of Magic is finally out in the wild. If it makes someone smile, or warms someone’s heart, then it was worth every minute/30 seconds of writing it. Good luck to everyone home-schooling and trying to write at the moment. Wishing you all the very best!

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