All children are insane
I've not yet considered writing anything as grand as a novel. I'd love to one day (in fact, let's say I will one day), but for now I simply can't imagine delving into my brain and finding 80,000 or so words in there. Not ones that would come out coherently anyway (I was woken up at 2.17am today, this sort of thing contributes).
That said, I reckon at least some of the processes involved in what I am doing and what novelists are doing are similar. The main one, surely, is getting to know my main character(s).
I remember reading an interesting blog post some time ago, which included exercises for delving into the very heart of your main character's being. It suggested considering their background (even if it never appeared in the book), the events that made them who they are, what their motives are and what they might do in any given situation (again, even if those situations never actually arose in the story). Those things would give a complete picture of how a person came to be, and how whatever did happen in the book might cause them to evolve.
I never completed any such exercises of course, and when I wrote the first Squishy McFluff story, I had no idea I was going to write a series of them. But it did happen for me… organically.
Certainly by the time I was half way through Squishy McFluff Meets Mad Nana Dot, I realised knew the characters inside out. They'd sort of become real, taken on a life of their own.
Part of this must surely be down to the constant source of inspiration I have right here under my own roof (and all children are insane, as illustrated by the photograph of my daughter wearing part of a buggy. She wore it for the best part of half an hour).
Here I have the real Ava (who brought Swishy M'Flulf – she can't say it – to the supermarket the other day, on a lead). She was just two-and-a-half when she conjured up her imaginary Cat, but now she's older and much closer in age to the Ava in the books. When I see my Ava so desperately wanting to do something she shouldn't, I know that Ava and Squishy, oh, they'd SO do it.
But the fictional Ava is not made only from the real Ava – she's also made from my other daughter Ruby (who yesterday pinched two yogurts from the fridge, ate them under a blanket without a spoon, and then denied EVER having eaten a yogurt, despite the fact that she was sticky and pink from her nose to her ears).
The fictional Ava is in part my children, and in part my friends' children. In fact she's also, in no small part, me.
McFluff, well, he's an extension of Ava and also the embodiment of two things that all children have in spades: curiosity and a penchant for mischief. He's that aspect of a child's personality – he's the brains, he's the ideas, and he's adorably troublesome.
The more I wrote about what Ava and McFluff were doing, the more it all came together for me, who they were and why – and everything clicked.
Now I DO know exactly how Ava and Squishy McFluff will react in any given situation, I know what they'll be thinking. I can picture the expressions on their sweet little faces. I also know they never do anything with evil intent, and their motives always lie in their thirst for adventure, or fun, or discovery.
It's quite odd now, thinking back to writing that first story, about those two characters who were strangers; it's a bit like remembering when you met a now-close friend for the very first time – you know you didn't know them then, but it's hard to remember what that was like.
I think I've realised how very important it was that I got to know Ava and Squishy so well. Whether you're writing a novel or a children's series, understanding the essence of the character(s) is what gives them legs as it were (whether two or four).
What's more, knowing Ava and Squishy inside out is what has made, and does make, writing the books such supreme fun for me – and I don't half love them for it.