School blog

Posted on September 29, 2010 (Subscribe to Blog)

A little while ago, a teacher in a local school set up a blog for his young students. These students have either read or are reading Island of Fog, and the teacher (or coach) thought it would be a great idea to engage them with a blog aimed at writing and language skills, that they can visit in their spare time and/or at school. This has turned out to be a lot of fun all round, and I find it interesting to hear from readers of the age group that my books are intended for (9-12). A copy of one particular blog thread follows. I can't link directly to the blog because we need to protect the identities of the students and school, but here's what they had to say, starting with a message from Coach himself...

Have you even been reading a book and wished you could ask the author a question? Well, guess what?... Yes, that's right. We can do it. Post your questions for Keith Robinson here, and you may just get lucky enough to hear back from him. If not, hey, authors are busy people.

landon6

What was the purpose of writing the book?

A.J.W 3

To go along with this what inspired you to write this book?

Keith Robinson

I've always had ideas floating around in my head, many of which are barely enough material for a short story. Occasionally an idea expands into something bigger. ISLAND OF FOG was one of those ideas that started out small and gradually evolved into a novel.

I moved to America (from England) back in 2001, and I started to feel a little homesick so began collecting novels that I'd read and enjoyed as a child – books written by a famous English children's author in the 1940s and 1950s (see my fansite at http://www.EnidBlyton.net). These were mystery and adventure books, a bit like the Hardy Boys and Three Investigators in the U.S. only much more English, with picturesque English villages and rolling English countryside. Reliving these books made me feel a little more at home. It also inspired me to start writing "seriously," something I'd been wanting to do for ages.

Trouble was, even though I like writing for middle graders, I never went to school in America so can't relate very well to American classrooms and school work. And if I was going to write "seriously" with aspirations of getting published in the U.S., then I couldn't really write about English schools either. So I turned to fantasy, where I can create settings and worlds of my own. And I've always liked Greek mythology as well as general weird stuff!

I grabbed one of those ideas floating around in my head. It was basically a group of children on a foggy island, not knowing what was "Out There" beyond the fog, and something strange was happening to them. The idea of fog came from simply looking out the window one morning, when it was really foggy out, and I remember thinking, "What if it was foggy all the time? It must be horrible never knowing what's just a few hundred yards away!"

I don't think I knew at first what was happening to the children; I knew only that that they were "special" in some way. But that's what happens with an idea – it grows and grows. I still had to work at it though. Even when I figured out what was happening to the children, I still didn't know WHY or HOW. I wrote the first half of the book before I knew how it would end... except that I always knew what the very last scene would be. Don't skip to the end, readers! ...but on the very last page, the last few sentences were exactly as I always planned.

Sorry – this was a very long answer for a short question! :-)

hayden5

Did you keep getting ideas for the book?

Coach

That's interesting about the last scene. I'm reading a series by Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time), which is also a fantasy series. It's very long. There are eleven or twelve books out already, and the series is not finished. The books are long too. Some of them are over 2,000 pages. The print is small too. There's no telling how many words we're talking here. Anyway, Jordan also said that (even though he was having trouble wrapping his story up)he knew from the beginning what the last scene would be. Sadly, Robert Jordan died before he finished the series. However, before he died he passed his notes on to someone else who will finish the series.

Keith Robinson

Now THAT's a vision! I've never read any of Jordan's books. I heard that J.K. Rowling also wrote her book 7 ending very early on. In an interview she opened a safe and showed the interviewer the sheet of paper (well, waved it at him and then hid it again). I think it's important to have that final scene in mind. I just realized that I also had the final scenes of LABYRINTH OF FIRE and MOUNTAIN OF WHISPERS in mind too, way before I finished them.

Austin2

Are you going to write another book or do you have another book after The Mountian of Whispers.

knox5

did u use creatures from all mythologies or just greek mythologies (like u stated above) or did u use other mythologies too cause i thought a manticore was from indonseia???

MaryRuth2

What inspired you to become a writer?

julianne3

How long did it take you to write the book ISLAND OF FOG.

Dawson3

How many books are going to be in this series? (By the way your books are awesome)

A.J.W 3

Dawson he wrote a trilogy so he has already finished the series, because he wrote IOF,LOF,MOW

A.J.W 3

Well its a trilogy right now as he said he is probably going to right another book so i was wrong.

madison3

What is your favorite part of "Island of the Fog".

Keith Robinson

Wow, lots of questions! :-)

Okay, so yes, I kept getting ideas for ISLAND OF FOG as it went on, and actually had to trash lots of chapters because it kept going in the wrong direction. Earlier versions had Hal sneaking into the back of his dad's pickup and going "Out There." I liked the idea of that, but it changed the whole storyline so I ditched it. Another version had the children escaping the island through an old tunnel under the lighthouse. I liked that scene too but, again, it changed the direction of the story. So yes, ideas kept coming, and I kept adapting. This leads neatly to the question of how long it took to write...

About six years! Okay, not six years continuous writing, but six years on and off. I started in 2002, had two years where I didn't write anything at all, and finished in late-2008. The lesson I learned was: plan the story first!! The second and third books took about four months each, plus two months of editing. In both cases I wrote a chapter summary first, and I found that I could sort of write the story and do all my thinking during THAT process rather than during the writing process. I saved a lot of time because if the story went off track, all I'd wasted was a few paragraphs of words rather than entire chapters.

I do plan to write more books, yes. The fourth will be about Hal and just two or three of his friends as they set off on an adventure. I found in the previous books that it's hard to keep up with eight or nine children plus adults, so the fourth book will concentrate on a smaller group. I don't know how many books there will be in total – I guess I'll just keep going until I run out of ideas!

I like ALL types of mythology. Well spotted, knox5! Yes, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, plus Asian, North American, British, European, even Outer Mongolian – I don't mind as long as I like the legend itself. There's a ton of myths to choose from, and I like the idea of picking obscure ones. Not many readers had heard of the naga, for instance, or manticores.

Finally, my inspiration for writing was simply reading a lot when I was younger and collecting all the books in various series. I think you're either a bookworm or you're not. Some people love reading and enjoy seeing rows of books on shelves, whereas others just enjoy a quick read but toss the book away afterward. I'm the former. :-)

hayden5

thank you

julianne3

wow 6 years that's along time.

jax3

How many years have you been writing books?

Keith Robinson

Dawson3 and A.J.W. 3, I should clarify that ISLAND OF FOG started out as an idea for a short story, then expanded into a novel, then into a trilogy. But way before I finished the trilogy I realized there was potential for a long-running series. I call it a trilogy because that's what it is at the moment, but that won't stop me writing books four, five, six, and so on. :-) I believe you can have a trilogy within a series. Think of TV shows. These are typically series, but occasionally they have a "to be continued" message at the end of an episode, so you can have two-parters and even three-parters within a series. I think of my trilogy that way – a three-part story within a series.

Madison3, my favorite parts of ISLAND OF FOG are "Abigail's secret," the raft scene, and Hal's first full transformation. Oh, and when they go to the top of the – well, I'd better not say any more in case others haven't read it yet!

julianne3, six years IS a long time, but remember I was just writing bits here and there. I think actual writing time (with, say, 1-3 hours a day on average) would be more like six months!

jax3, I've been writing since I was at school, but I rarely finished any of the novels I started. My first ever finished novel was probably around 2004 or so, called THE SECRET OF GROMBLE GORGE, and that novel will never see the light of day in its present form! ISLAND OF FOG is actually the second novel I ever finished. I have a third, FLYING SAUCER IN THE WOODS, which is finished but needs some polishing, although I'm no hurry to do anything with it. More info about these here:

http://www.unearthlytales.com/tweeting-and-writing.html

Did you know that pilots have to put in about 30 hours of flight training with an instructor before they can become licensed? Well, I've heard from editors and agents and professional authors that a writer should put in about 10,000 hours before he can consider himself a writer! Or, put another way, your first million words should be considered "just practice." Some publishers say that when you've written your first novel, you should put it in a drawer and forget about it; it's your second novel that you should try to get published. Now, all this may seem discouraging, but the point is that it takes a lot of time and practice, and only those who WANT to write will put in the effort. Going by the million-word rule, my trilogy totals about 300,000, so I'm only a third of the way there. If you include stuff I've never tried to publish, then maybe I'm about two-thirds of the way there. So judge for yourselves – is the million-word rule realistic, or a bit over the top? ;-)

Coach

I agree that you can have a trilogy within a series. Star Wars anyone?

matt3

yeah i saw that when i was little

hayden5

Star Wars is awesome!!!

KNOX5

i think the million word thing is kinda stupid i mean you have writen alot of stuff and yet you still havent reached 1,000,000 i like the second novel is the one you should publish instead of the first one that makes more sense to me because you learn fro your mistakes

A.J.W 3

Also the million word rule kinda depends on what type of books you write, because like you, you right "long" books as compared to like really small children books like Dr.Suess wrote. I belive the rule is good or bad depending on how long your books are. This is just my personal opinion.

Adam1

You are an amazing author, I mean ive been intrested in books before but never like this. This is my fav. Books ive ever read. Thanks for being such a great author

hayden5

Keith, this is probably my favorite book ever.

julianne3

If you have a wife and kid(s),did they help with the book in anyway

mathew1

Where did you get the sea serpent idea from?

Ben #5

Exactly what time period is the story in?

Keith Robinson

Star Wars is a great example of a trilogy within a series. I've always admired how George Lucas planned a nine-part story, starting with parts 4, 5 and 6, and then going back in time for parts 1, 2 and 3. The impact of finding out that Darth Vader is Luke's father, and Leia his sister, would never have worked as well if the movies had been filmed in chronological order! And it's very satisfying to see Part 3 ending with familiar faces and scenes that lead directly into the original 1977 Star Wars movie (part 4). One day we'll get parts 7, 8 and 9...

I've had ideas of my own about this kind of thing. ISLAND OF FOG has plenty of mystery which unravels slowly as the story goes on, but now that the trilogy is finished and everything is kind of wrapped up and out in the open, it would be neat to go back and do a prequel or two. But I'm still mulling over that.

Many thanks to those of you who said ISLAND OF FOG is your favorite book! That's a great compliment and gives me all sorts of warm fuzzies. :-) It also gives me a boost and makes me want to get on with the next book, and last night I had some inspiration and started writing a summary. Writing it down helps me expand on the idea, and also prevents me from forgetting everything!

julianne3, I'm not sure that my wife and daughter helped with the story in any way that I can think of. The only way they might have helped is by allowing me to know firsthand how worried parents get about their children! I couldn't imagine letting my Lily Beth go off to deal with dragons... but then, she's only six, and she's not a shapeshifter... at least not that I know of. She's now the same age as Thomas was when he found out he was a monster! I can easily imagine how that would terrify a child. It would be bad enough for 12-year-olds, but a 6-year-old...? Yikes.

mathew1, I honestly don't know where the sea serpent idea came from. I just like sea serpents and it seemed perfectly natural to have one lurking in the sea around the island. I've been to Loch Ness in Scotland and, like many others, can't help feeling a thrill at the idea that there might be some kind of monster in the lake... even if it's just a giant squid.

Ben #5, the time period of the novel is now – the present. Hal's mom mentions TVs and washing machines, so we know it's a fairly modern setting. It could have been set in the future, but I saw no purpose to that at all. And since I made no indication anywhere about futuristic machines, the assumption has to be that the time period is "the present."

riley5, if you don't like to write, then you might have a job writing a story! You could always co-author though; find someone who wants to write and impart your idea to him, and have two author names on the cover. Anyone can write, but I think you have to really LIKE writing to do well. Part of writing well is reading a lot. If you like to read, and you really want to write, you'll subconsciously study the rules of grammar and punctuation as you read. Apart from school classes, I never took advanced classes in punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc – I just read a lot. Any rule I'm not sure of as I write, I looked it up either online or in a couple of books I have.

Many people struggle with punctuation, especially with dialog, but my weakness was always being too wordy (as you can tell by my posts here, and the length of my books!). It's taken a lot of practice to get into the habit of being more concise and logical when writing novels. For instance, look at this:

Jack ran quickly along the crowded street. It was packed with people and he had trouble getting anywhere fast, so he looked around for an alley to use. He found one and hurried into it...

At first glance the above paragraph might seem okay, but there's SO much wrong with it. First, why did I say "he ran quickly"? When you run, you're naturally being quick, right? So why not just say "he ran"? Or, if I want to be more specific, I could use "he sprinted" or, to slow him down, "he jogged." Then I've said "crowded street" and "it was packed with people" – both saying the exact same thing. How about I just leave out the "packed with people" part? Then I've made a continuity error. I said he was running quickly (sprinting?) but then said the streets were crowded and he wasn't getting anywhere fast. Doh! Then I said "he looked around for an alley" and followed up with "he found one and hurried into it," which is unnecessarily long-winded. Why not just, "he found an alley and hurried into it"? Far simpler! Now look at this:

Jack fought his way along the crowded street. Then he spotted a quiet alley and hurried into it...

This makes more sense and is certainly shorter. Jack is "fighting" to get along, giving the impression that he's having difficulty moving fast and growing frustrated. Mentioning a "quiet alley" is in direct contrast to growing frustrated with the crowded street, so it's perfectly clear WHY he's heading for the alley without the author explicitly telling the readers. A smattering of words like fought, crowded, quiet, and hurried, all help to get the message across quickly and clearly.

So a big part of writing is learning to re-read what you've written and cutting out unnecessary stuff. Often you can make two words into one, two sentences into one, two paragraphs into one. It follows, therefore, that you can make your story considerably shorter and more concise with some careful editing.

Hmm, I seem to have gone off on a tangent!

hayden5

I'm about to start to reading your second novel.

sarah2

Did you like to write when you were little????

hayden5

How many books have you written Keith?

Ben#5

Keith you have written a book that has my two faviorate things in it mystery & adventure it is so good I plan to read the whole trilogy I hope you write many more

hayden5

I agree.

Ben#5

Hey Keith I was wondering is it possible for me to continue on a story I have written and get it published?

jack6

what was the name of your first novel

jack6

Do you love what you do, or do you just do it to get by?

kelsey5

Was there another author who inspired you to write a book?? To keith

Keith Robinson

sarah2, I always liked to read and write. I liked English Language classes so much that I passed two separate grades (unusual for school – hard to explain as the system in Britain is different to here). I also passed English Literature, Design and Art. And I read all the time. My mum (or mom!) came home one day with a handful of books by Enid Blyton (mentioned above) and said she'd read them when she was little. I read them too, and was an instant fan. For the next few years I collected all the books in the series. They were mystery and adventure books, and involved secret clubs, solving mysteries that the local village policeman couldn't solve, finding treasure in dungeons and tunnels, thwarting villains and smugglers... you know, all the good stuff. :)

Later I moved on to Doctor Who. I figured I had "grown up" and was ready for older material, so collected all the original Doctor Who books. Later still I moved on to fantasy, and I collected books by Piers Anthony.

On the back of ISLAND OF FOG and LABYRINTH OF FIRE you'll find a quote by Piers Anthony. He's a successful fantasy author (best known for his Magic of Xanth books) and he kindly read and reviewed my books. You can see his reviews here:

http://www.hipiers.com/09july.html (ISLAND, second paragraph)
http://www.hipiers.com/10feb.html (LABYRINTH, sixth paragraph)

Being the New York Times bestselling author that he is, his positive reviews mean a lot to me! And to answer kelsey5, both Enid Blyton and Piers Anthony were influences; in fact, my brother described my books as a cross between the two authors!

Ben#5, good luck with your story. It's certainly possible to get it published in the future, but you have to put in the work first if you want to get it published in a national magazine or book compilation, although you could try local competitions in newspapers and so on. To be a successful writer, you'll have to do what I'm still doing: work at it, keep writing, and learn as much as you possibly can about the rules of grammar, punctuation, and of course the art of writing stories!

Today is NATIONAL PUNCTUATION DAY. That means you need to take an extra hard look at what you're writing and make sure all the punctuation is present and correct. :)

dawson3

Did it take you more than one try to get the book published?

kaitlyn 2

hey, Keith I was wondering who inspired you to become a writer?? And what gave you the idea to name ISLAND OF FOG what you did.. Its a really good book title and its a really good book too I am at like the part right after they all find out what creature they are.. Its a real good book and I just wanted to ask you those questions..

Kayla13

When you started writting, was it a hobbie or a passion

Keith Robinson

Whew, I'm tired after a weekend volunteering at the Balloons & Tunes Festival! Did y'all go? I was over in the balloon area, helping to put balloons up and take them down. I even got to have a balloon flight! Very cool. It made me think of my Book 3, MOUNTAIN OF WHISPERS. You'll know what I mean when you get to it. :-)

hayden5, I've finished about six novels that I can think of, three of which you know about (the ISLAND OF FOG trilogy). The other three are THE SECRET OF GROMBLE GORGE (a fantasy with a girl that can talk to dragons), FLYING SAUCER IN THE WOODS (a sci-fi about two boys who find and steal a flying saucer), and THE MYSTERY OF THE STOLEN BOOKS (a mystery based on the characters created by Enid Blyton). You can read this last one on my website here:

http://www.enidblyton.net/mystery-series/the-mystery-of-the-stolen-books.html

By the way, enjoy LABYRINTH OF FIRE!

jack6, the name of my first unpublished novel is THE SECRET OF GROMBLE GORGE (as mentioned above) but the first published novel is ISLAND OF FOG. As for why I write... It's definitely not for money!! Unless you're famous like Stephen King, most authors are not rich. I own and run a website design business, and writing is purely a hobby. I don't really make any money from it; any profit I've made to date has been spent on promoting the books and various other things related to writing. That said, obviously I'd like to be rich and famous one day!

kelsey5 and kaitlyn 2, you asked who inspired me to write, but I answered that question above; see post #40. ;-) But as for the title ISLAND OF FOG... I guess it's a fairly simple title considered the story is about children on a foggy island. Originally it was called ISLAND OF MIST, but someone told me the title and premise reminded them of THE MISTS OF AVALON, so I changed it. I like "fog" better anyway. I'm glad you're enjoying it, Kaitlyn!

dawson3, ISLAND OF FOG is actually self-published, meaning I'm in complete control of whether it's published or not. I use an online service to print my books. I have to buy an ISBN first (the long number on the back near the barcode) and I have to prepare my content (the text) and the cover so it meets the requirements. This takes a lot of work, plus of course I have to make sure the story itself is finished and carefully edited. I do it all myself, but I have a few people I call on to proofread for me, and they pick up more typos and errors. I edit the whole book numerous times, reading it over and over, trying to find all the errors. It takes ages! But once it's done, I upload it and have it printed. Once printed, it's ready to sell – but even then the occasional typo pops up and I have to correct it in my manuscript and re-upload it.

Meanwhile, a major publisher is currently looking at ISLAND OF FOG so it could be that it's published "properly" one day. Being self-published is great in some ways, but nothing matches the exposure and marketing power of a major publisher.

And finally, Kayla13, writing is a hobby AND a passion, and I think it has to be that way. I would say that ALL hobbies are passions, otherwise why would it be a hobby in the first place? The coolest thing in the world would be to turn a hobby (or passion) into a full-time job. But for that to happen, I need to be published by a major publisher and have as many readers as J. K. Rowling!

The End ...at least for now!

Comment by BRIAN B. on Thursday, September 30, 2010...

This is a great read. It is wonderful to see the children's enthusiasm. I love how you went off on a tangent with the writing example. And nice to get further insight into what makes the author tick. I hope your hint about paying attention to grammar and punctuation is heeded. It seems a lost art with students nowadays.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Thursday, September 30, 2010...

Yes, I often go off on tangents. Why, just the other day, I was........

Comment by MING on Thursday, September 30, 2010...

A brilliant bunch of questions and a great lot of answers! I enjoyed reading that, and thanks especially for the point about grammar and punctuation!

Comment by ? on Thursday, October 14, 2010...

i am one of the students from the school blog. I have so greatly enjoyed have to be able to ask the author the questions that you normaly just wonder about. It has been a plessure talking and being able to ask you questions.

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