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Top tips for writing a middle-grade series from Serena Patel

Serena Patel, author of the delightful Anisha, Accidental Detective series, shares some insight into writing an engaging series for middle-grade readers.

Language: English
Genre: Fiction
Age group: Adults
Audience: Writers

Last updated: 18 October 2021

I’m often asked where I got the idea from for Anisha, Accidental Detective and the truth is that I was inspired by real life and my own family. When I was a child, I didn’t see characters like me in books. I didn’t see my culture reflected in stories and as a result I couldn’t see myself as the hero of a story. I think it’s so important that children have stories they see themselves in and also characters different to them.

It can help them makes sense of and empathise with the world around them. I had been writing for a little while and at the same time I was watching my daughter grow up without stories that reflected our British Indian culture and family life. And that is what sparked the idea for Anisha. I thought about our family life and how chaotic it can be when all our extended family is together and all the funny things that happen when we’re doing ordinary things like cooking in the kitchen, on a day out or the things my children tell me happen at school.

It seemed like I had some great material for a story. I think inspiration can be found all around us and I try to observe and make mental notes of the small things as well as the big. Those little details about a person, how they move or act, something about a place or an event, those things based in real life that you then inject into your writing bring it to life.

The challenges of writing a series

Writing a series has some great benefits but also some challenges along the way. One of the things I love about it is that I know my main characters so well. Anisha and her family are fully formed in my mind now and when I type their dialogue, I can almost hear them speak it out loud. I love spending time with them and creating funny, sometimes sticky situations for them to get into and hopefully out of too!

When I’m thinking about what to write for the next book, I look back to our own family experiences and things my children tell me about school for inspiration. One of the challenges of writing a series is keeping each story fresh and interesting. Added to this is the fact that this is a mystery series and so each mystery must be exciting and engaging in its own right. Another great series for this age group that is engaging throughout is Llama out Loud writtem by Annabelle Sami and illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan.

The Anisha books can also be read as stand-alone stories and in any order. I do, however try to give each member of Anisha’s family and friendship group a little extra airtime in each story so that we get to know them a bit better as the series develops. Mindy, for example, experiences big personality development between books one and three.

Things to remember when writing a series

My top tips for writing a series are:

My experience of having Anisha published has been a true rollercoaster of emotions. I am so grateful to every reader who has picked up an Anisha book, every reviewer who has taken the time to read it and anyone who has recommended it to a friend, parent, teacher or child. It has been an intense three years since I signed my first publishing contract.

In that time, I have written five Anisha books as well as co-editing and contributing to an anthology of middle grade crime mysteries. I get messages from teachers who say children in their class love Anisha and are sometimes seeing a character who looks like them in a book for the first time. I especially love the messages where the children are trying to solve the mystery and suspect Granny Jas!

My publishing highlights

Meeting readers at both virtual events and in person has been the absolute highlight although being shortlisted for the Blue Peter award comes a very close second! Going on to win awards like the Sainsburys Children’s Book Award has been an overwhelming and amazing bonus that I never expected.

I’m not sure I’ve processed everything we have achieved with this series in such a short space of time. At some point when things slow down, I’ll probably sit down and think about it but for now I keep writing and hoping Anisha continues to find readers wherever she goes.

This article was comissioned as part of our writing for children industry lab. Check out other industry lab resources(this will open in a new window) for great tips and advice.