by Addy Farmer
Featuring Juliet Clare Bell, Linda Ravin Lodding and Julie Fulton
On Notes from the Slushpile, we chronicle the slings and arrows of trying to make a dream come true so we get embarrassingly excited about debut authors. In our new series That’ll Be The Debut, we meet debut authors and get the lowdown on what life is like beyond the Slushpile. Here is the fourth of the series in which our debutantes talk about the joy of writing picture books.
|Linda Ravin Lodding|
|Juliet Clare Bell|
It's the rhythm and rhyme that appeal to me. My 'adult' poems are mostly blank verse, so picture books allow me to work with a more musical feel. .Julie Fulton
I remember how I adored books such as One Fish Two Fish and The Cat in the Hat amongst others. Getting children to love books when they're young is so important.
I just love the way that the words and pictures combine to tell the story and that the child can be 'reading' a different story in the pictures from the one the adult is reading to them.
Like Julie, I remember the joy of being read to and sharing picture books. I love the fact that they're read aloud, and how shared the experience is. I want to keep hold of that forever, and if my children insist on growing up then I'm going to have to keep writing picture books to stay in touch with that. And Julie, I still read One Fish, Two Fish regularly (or have it read to me by my children). It's great.
|Annika as a baby and how writing for children all began for Juliet Clare Bell|
Another reason I love to write picture books is that I get the chance to write for two audiences - the child and the adult reader. While I write to appeal, first and foremost, to children, I also want the adult reader to enjoy the book and find the story endearing, charming or funny. I remember all too well reading and re-reading picture books to my daughter, Maja, and if I didn't enjoy the book myself, I usually tried to hide the unwanted book higher than her eye level of the bookshelf!
One of Linda’s favorite picture books is Eloise by Kay Thompson. Linda and her mother used to visit Eloise’s portrait, painted by Hilary Knight, which hangs in the lobby at the Plaza Hotel in New York.
Picture books were something I loved and read all the time and they fitted well with only being able to work in ten or fifteen-minute bursts. The children are a bit older now and I may write older stuff in the future but that would be in addition to picture books.
I've tried to write MG and YA (and hope to succeed one day!) but I invariably lose steam, or get side tracked with a new story idea when I hit the 1/3 mark. Working with shorter texts allows me to indulge all my story ideas - and have the satisfaction of completing (some) of the texts.
I'm trying to re-edit a novel for the 8+ age range at the moment. In fact, I sat at my computer today as I had a 'spare' afternoon and managed to burn a loaf of bread I'd put in the oven and forgot I'd stuck a couple of curlers in my newly trimmed hair (I always hate it when it's just been cut) thus ending up looking like Crystal Tipps (there's a blast from the past)! I was also late for a meeting of our local am-dram group.
Clare's quite right - picture books can be visited in small doses without losing the thread too much. A little notebook carried around is a great friend too.
In the small town of Hamilton Shady there is rather a large problem. Mrs MacCready won’t stop eating and is soon towering above the town. Just what will happen? (Maverick Books)
I suppose I must have had some idea of what she might look like and all the plates piled high with food, but it wasn't at the forefront of my mind. When I was persuaded to send it off to a publisher, I began to wonder what the drawings might be like. Like Linda, I'm no artist - if I drew an elephant's backside you wouldn't know what it was - so I seem to be limited in what my mind can dream up too.
Since the experience of seeing the story brought to life so vividly I can now begin to 'see' possible pictures that could accompany new texts I'm working on. It doesn't lead the story in my head, the sounds and rhythm still do that, but it does help me decide a bit more whether a particular 'event' may work on the page - and whether or not I'm being too wordy and more could be left to the picture.
I've written a sequel to Mrs MacCready, which was quite a different experience - I could see her (and her cat) in my mind and this actually helped me come up with some of the plot ideas.
But I do think of my stories in terms of the layout for a book and I love leaving stuff out of the text so it can be conveyed in the pictures. I've written a few stories with very few words (well under one hundred) and for those you've got to have a pretty good idea of the layout for the book or the words alone just wouldn't carry the story.
My favourite picture books are often ones by author/illustrators who can be brilliant at letting the pictures tell the story (Not Now Bernard by David McKee and Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins, for example).
As for me, I'm a very visual thinker and some of my stories are inspired solely by a visual - either concrete or imagined. A book that I'm working on now was inspired in part by one of the skinny, tiny townhouses that are so typical here in Holland, as well as by a visual that I have in my mind's eye of the book being held vertically and one long, skinny house stretching from the bottom of the book to the top. I then built a fun story around this key image.
Jim Kay. Then we all met and discussed the relationship between the words and his roughs and what was working and what might be added - it was brilliant! So, I'm interested in how much interaction you guys had.
Once they'd chosen Jona Jung, she sent over pencil sketches for each page and I got to comment, along with the guys at Maverick, and suggest changes/additions - so much like you, Addy, except it wasn't face to face. After the changes had been made I could comment again on 'finished' copies, before they were set in stone. It was a brilliant experience and meant I felt I was involved in the whole look of the book.
Pictures are so important in picture books (obviously!) and without giving my input, I think I might have felt as though I'd 'provided' my text rather then helped create a whole book. Julie Fulton
|Julie receiving her very first copy of ‘Mrs MacCready’ from Maverick Books MD Steve at a lunch in Covent garden.|
I was shown the roughs for Don't Panic, Annika! and asked for my thoughts but they were already fairly nearly done. I did suggest specific changes where the illustrations didn't quite make sense of the text (how I envisaged it anyway) and they were all accepted.
But if I'd not liked the images (fortunately it wasn't the case!) I doubt I could have asked for a different looking character. Jen Morris, the illustrator, who lives in the US, and I had no contact whatsoever until a couple of days before my launch when the publisher emailed us both together to say there was going to be a dual language edition in Mandarin and English (yay!). So I emailed her and we're now in contact.
It's like Linda said, most people assume that you either illustrate it yourself or that you work closely together on it with an illustrator.
With The Kite Princess coming out next year, my editor at Barefoot sent me two spreads and asked for my thoughts on what could change and I think that they'll take that into account throughout the rest of the book.
I agree with you, Julie, that it's amazing waiting to have my book turned into OUR book, and it's so bizarre to think how much the illustrator will determine the whole feel of the book. It's a very exciting - and odd - process.
Gullane Children's Books).
The book is 99% finished and this is the first contact we've had! So our "collaboration" has been only through our editor. Fortunately, it's been a wonderful collaboration and I've had the chance to view various stages of the illustrations as we progressed -- but we never had any contact.
Ross lives up in the Scottish Highlands, our editor is in London and I live in the Netherlands (although I'm originally from New York) so it would have been difficult for us to have actually met in person. Ross brought the story to life in ways I couldn't imagine and added so much humor to the book. We both hope we can work together again.
The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister (Flashlight Press)
With my first book - The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister (due out in October from Flashlight Press), again, it was my wonderful editor who had the vision to pair me with the book's illustrator, Suzanne Beaky. And Suzanne delivered such whimsical, whacky illustrations that I can't imagine Ernestine, or her adventures, illustrated any other way!
Again, even though we never met this was a true collaboration. In the book, we decided to have a wordless spread which would visually convey the book's humor. This called upon Suzanne to also be a story teller and she added so much beyond the few illustration notes we provided. In fact, every time I "read" Ernestine again, I find new details!
In my upcoming Hold That Thought, Milton! the illustrator Ross Collins has hidden Milton's frog, Burp, on various pages making the book as challenging as, Where's Waldo. The funny thing is that every time I re-read the text I'm looking for the darn frog and always forget where he's hiding on the page. Hmmm...wonder what that says about me?
I've had to learn to leave room in my writing for the illustrator to create so that the final book is a true collaboration -- between writer, illustrator AND editor. Linda Ravin Lodding
|Linda, at an age when she was falling in love with books - ahhh!|
I quickly amassed a binder full of rejections. But I was never put off - the alternative of not writing at all was never an option for me. Linda Ravin Lodding
Several years ago I attended an SCBWI conference in Winchester and took advantage of one-on-one critiques. I had a wonderful critique by an editor who gave me a lot of excellent and encouraging feedback and soon after that The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister was getting serious attention from a few large publishing houses.
In fact, the book stayed with one editor for over a year and subsequently with another editor for a similar length of time. While both of these "close calls" ended with rejections the chance to work on revisions with editors made this a much stronger book in the end.
My second picture book (from about seven years ago) nearly got picked up by Dorling Kindersley and I met them in their plush offices in the Strand and got given a development fee to write some promotional material for it. In fact, I'm still working on that one.
A few years later, I realised I was getting pretty close. I was sending out lots of manuscripts and getting plenty of personal rejections as well as standard ones, so I decided that I'd look for an agent.
I think it's worth waiting until you've got at least three, four or five really good picture books to show and you're getting really good feedback from professionals. Juliet Clare Bell
I was lucky and found a great agent very quickly (Celia Catchpole). Addy got Tessa Strickland from Barefoot to do one of the SCBWI Professional North events in Lincoln and at the end, someone asked her what she was looking for at the moment. So I went home and did my homework and actually wrote the book. I was going to send it to her the day Celia contacted me.
Like you, Linda, I got two books picked up in close succession by different publishers.
It was only after months of badgering to send them somewhere that I got up the courage to submit what I thought were my three best - first of all to Little Tiger Press (after much research in the library and Children's Writers' Yearbook). From them I received the standard rejection, but was encouraged to try again by my class.
I subscribe to (or rather my mother gets me as an annual birthday present!) Writers' Forum Magazine and it was here that I spotted a short article about Maverick Books which said they were open to picture book submissions. I sent off my three and then forgot all about it and carried on with my usual work.
So it went back and forth between us a couple of times before she then had serious meetings with her colleagues. These meetings kept being delayed and then not definitive and I thought it was seeming less likely. But she said there would definitely be this final meeting out in the States and she'd have an answer for me.
|Annika, Esther and Otto say 'yes' to Barefoot!|
Then all that crazy snow came and I doubted she'd have made it over to the US. I saw an email from her in my inbox and thought it must be another postponed meeting one, or else a 'no' (surely a yes would be a phone call?).
I opened it, heart thumping, and it said "I'm delighted to say..."... My husband was putting the children to bed (I was meant to be too, but I'd sneaked off to check my emails just in case...) so I re-read it a few more times and then dared to go upstairs and tell him.
It was pretty surreal. In fact, I went out and bought some Barefoot champagne -because of the name -and it was on special offer at the Coop). We realised straight away why it was on special, but who cared? Someone had finally taken on one of my books.
Don't Panic Annika book launch video (Picadilly Press)
When I got home that evening, there was a lot of jumping and squealing – all the sort of behavior that wouldn’t have gone over well at my UN office. I couldn't be happier with where my first book landed. And, soon after my first title was sold, my second and third picture books were sold in the UK to Gullane Children's Books. So, after ten years, I've had the excitement of bringing out two titles nearly simultaneously and working with two wonderful editors and publishers. A dream come true-- twofold!
I hope to spend the holidays on a narrow boat fiddling about with new and old ideas for picture books. Mmm - long evenings sitting on a deck in the mellowing sun writing ...
|Julie ready to do research for any number of books|
Actually I can't wait for our break. All the rushing around promoting at Waterstone's/libraries/schools at the moment is great fun, but can be frustrating too - I hardly have time to sit down and do any actual writing. I am so glad it was Maverick that took me on though. They have been brilliant, both in how much input I've been given and for all their support - they say they're trying to create a 'family of authors' and it really does feel like that. Steve has even been to one of my Waterstone's signings and walked around outside drumming up trade!
My husband did originally ask whether he could retire now. I broke it to him gently that unless your name was JK Rowling, normal work had to continue! Julie Fulton
There often seems to be an assumption that you start out with picture books and work your way up to writing a novel. (Picture Books) are so much to do with everything we've all talked about: the visual side, the rhythm, language and construction, but it's more than that - sharing picture books is so social, emotional, exciting and interactive, and it's a huge privilege to be part of that experience. Juliet Clare Bell
And one final reminder about who we're all writing for ...
|It's mine! Thankyou, Esther (Clare's daughter) and her Funny Alieans|
Read the rest of our That'll be the Debut series:
- Part One - Dave Cousins (15 Days Without a Head), Katie Dale (Someone Else's Life) and Bryony Pearce (Angel's Fury)
- Part Two - Janet Foxley (Muncle Trogg), Caroline Green(Dark Ride) and Helen Peters (The Secret Henhouse Theatre)
- Part Three - Angela Cerrito (End of the Line), Sara Grant (Dark Parties) and Paula Rawsthorne (The Truth About Celia Frost)
- Part Four - Juliet Clare Bell (Don't Panic Annika), Julie Fulton (Mrs MacCready Was Ever So Greedy) and Linda Ravin Lodding (The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister)