Monday, 20 February 2017

How the Pig Got Published • John Dougherty

A big THANK YOU to guest blogger John Dougherty for this post that shows how perseverance can pay off in picture book publishing.

Like many children’s writers, I used to be a teacher. And like many children’s writers, I probably wouldn’t be a professional author now if I hadn’t been a teacher first.

A week of my pre-teacher training course classroom observations was spent with a teacher who told me, “If you're going to teach children, you need to read children’s books,” and who sent me home with some reading: Gene Kemp; Dick King-Smith; a different author every night. On the course itself, an entire module examined ways to use children’s books in our teaching, introducing me as it did so to the likes of Anthony Browne, Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross. It wasn’t long before I found myself devouring children’s books and thinking, “These are great - I wonder if I could write one?”

Teaching being as all-consuming as it is, I was, for a while, too creatively drained to be able to try any actual writing. But in my third year, my imagination was given a nudge by my pupils and some of their idiosyncrasies, and I ended up writing a number of what I hoped were picture-book manuscripts. My favourite of the bunch was inspired by Suganthi, a sparky little girl with a very snorty laugh; I’d taken to teasing her that she had a pig up her nose, and this prompted a story of a girl who, well, had a pig up her nose.

The reaction from publishers and agents was fairly consistent: these made us laugh, but they’re not what we’re looking for at the moment. But one editor - Sue Cook at Random House - went on to say, “I like the flavour of your writing, and I’d be interested in seeing anything else you’ve written.”

To cut a long story short, that was my break. Over the next few years Sue gave me feedback on everything I sent her, suggested I have a go at writing chapter books for newly emergent readers, and finally, when I sent her Zeus on the Loose, offered me my first deal.

I love being a published author, and I’m very proud of my work to date. But I started off trying to write picture books, and for years I wondered why none of the picture book manuscripts I’d written had ever been published. I’ve still got a growing pile of them, and every now and then my lovely agent Sarah would send one of them out… but nothing. Just an addition to the great big pile of nope that I keep under my desk. Until a couple of years ago, when, Sarah having retired, my new lovely agent Julia asked me, “Anything in the bottom drawer we could try sending out again?”

Well, to cut another long story short, Egmont - the very first publisher to whom Julia sent There’s a Pig Up My Nose - went mad for it. Absolutely loved it; made us an offer; secured the services of the fabulous Laura Hughes to do the illustrations. And since publication in January, it’s been getting all the love - a great review in The Guardian, Nicolette Jones’s Children’s Book of the Week in the Sunday Times… 

I have no idea what made the difference. Why did it get virtually no attention from anyone twenty-one years ago, yet an almost instant deal and broadsheet reviews all this time later? I can guess, of course, as can any of us, but there’s really no way of knowing. Perhaps ridiculous humour was just unfashionable in children’s publishing then, but is in vogue now. Perhaps it just landed on the right person’s desk this time round.

Whatever the reason, it’s another reminder of the lesson most of us, as authors, keep coming back to: persevere. If you believe in a story, don’t give up on it, because some day someone else may agree with you about it.

Of course, Suganthi and the other children in that Year Three class at Hillbrook Primary school will be all grown up now. But I hope that some of them will come across There’s a Pig Up My Nose in a bookshop or a library somewhere, and recognise my name, and read it to their own children. And I hope that whatever they’re doing, they too will have learned the lesson of persistence.

John’s website is at and you can follow him on Twitter @JohnDougherty8. There’s a Pig Up My Nose, illustrated by Laura Hughes and published by Egmont, is his latest book.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Building Bridges Through Picture Books, by Pippa Goodhart

 As our world divides, and distrust between different peoples seems to be growing, our children need to learn to do better than us.  That will only come through understanding and communication between cultures.  This has set me thinking about the few occasions when my story text has been illustrated by an artist from a different culture.  

The first time was when I wrote a silly rhyming story about Three Little Ghosties who like to bully ghoulsies, witches and ogres.  They are about to scare a human child … when the child wakes up and scares them instead.  I had a particular British illustrator in mind for this book.  Colin Paine did these lovely roughs ...

 … but Bloomsbury appointed an Italian illustrator, Anna Cantone, to do the final illustrations.  She used collage to produce very ‘designery’ images (please excuse the badly lit photo!).  I wasn't sure about them to begin with.  And yet I’ve come to love them.  Why?  Well, largely because young children react to them so well!  (NB This book is now out of print).

I’ve had books illustrated, published and sold in South Korea, and those have surprised me by showing children who look more British than Korean to me. 

 I asked my fellow Picture Book Den contributors what experiences they had in working with writers or illustrators from other cultures, and only Jonathan Emmett had experience of working this way.  He told me …

It took three years to find a suitable illustrator for my picture book story The Santa Trap and I’d almost given up hope of ever finding one when my editor Emily Ford discovered Argentinian illustrator Poly Bernatene. Poly brought a distinctly South-American Gothic feel to the illustrations that was a perfect fit for the dark, cautionary tale.

Poly’s English is pretty good these days (and certainly puts my miserable Spanish to shame) but back then his wife Paula translated the story’s text and Emily’s email correspondence so that the language difference did not seem to present too much of a problem. We’ve since done three more books together and are hoping to do a fifth. Although Poly can sometimes interpret my words in a way that I hadn’t intended, this often leads to interesting and appealing results.

That highlights one obvious problem; language differences.  And yet translation of short texts isn't hard.  Perhaps there should be more cross-cultural cooperation?  

There is!  Tiny Owl Publishing have recently launched an exciting and innovative move to publish children’s picture books which ‘bridge cultures’, specifically between Iran and Britain.  They asked me to write a fable for an Iranian illustrator to work on.  So I wrote A Bottle of Happiness, and, remarkably quickly, there was my story made into the most beautiful and, to me, initially slightly strange images by Ehsan Abdollahi.

As with Three Little Ghosties, I wondered whether the style would be too sophisticated and strange to British children’s view, but not a bit of it!  More fool me for underestimating them.  Of course ALL styles, indeed the whole world, is new to a small child, so they naturally tend to be more open to new ideas than we adults might give them credit for. 

In our modern world, we need to know facts about each other, but I strongly believe that we also need to have a proper feel for, and familiarity with, each other’s worlds and outlooks.  We need to share cultures.  

My father, who was a lovely and wise man, used to say that the point of education was to give us more things in life to enjoy.  Well, having access to the beauty and insights of other cultures certainly gives us more things to enjoy.  So let’s give that joy to our children!

Monday, 6 February 2017

Want to get published? Five rules of what not to do - Lynne Garner

When I submitted my first picture book manuscript I knew nothing about the industry, I just knew I wanted to write picture books. I'd proved I could write non-fiction as I'd had features and non-fiction books published. However picture books was one of those bucket list things, so I decided to give it a go. Not surprisingly I received a lot of rejections and along with some of those rejections I received a little advice from editors (which is uncommon, they simply don't have the time, so their comments were much appreciated). So I decided to study and signed up for a distance writing course. I started to submit my work and although I received positive feedback I also received notes, similar to those I'd received from editors.

So in the spirit of sharing here are the five rules I've drawn up based on the feedback I've received over the years.

Rule one:
Don't write about inanimate objects, especially those that talk. Talking and thinking inanimate objects is old fashioned. Children don't like to be 'talked down' to so they won't believe that inanimate objects can have a life of their own. So talking socks - oh no talking socks would never make a good story.

An epic adventure that starts
in a sock drawer.
Rule two:
Don't write about things considered to be 'adult' topics things like death, disability, bullying etc. So nothing like Gilbert the Great which deals with the lose of a friend - that'd never reach the shelves.  

Gilbert The Great White Shark
loses a friend.

Rule three:
Never ever write about a character that is not cute. Children and adults can't bond with un-cute characters, they want a character that has the arrr! factor.

Trolls aren't cute but I think I got away with it because
this story relies on humour. 

Rule four:

If you want your story to be published then it should have a 'proper' story arch with a beginning, middle and end. One where your character changes, gains or learns something. So a book where you make choices on behalf of the character would never get published.
Well it does work and so well that this title has been
followed by another including colouring books.
Rule five:

Your story should always have a happy ending. Leave your reader feeling positive. There's enough sadness in the world, so you don't have to introduce it to young readers in a book.

You'd never think a picture book where one of the main
characters eats the other would work, but it does.  

So now you know the rules guess what? Go on break them! If it worked for these authors then it might work for you. 

Mmmm what rule can I go and break? 


Now for a blatant plug, so please feel free to stop reading now:

My latest short story collection Coyote Tales Retold is available on Amazon in ebook format. Also available Meet The Tricksters a collection of 18 short stories featuring Anansi the Trickster Spider, Brer Rabbit and Coyote is available as a paper back and an ebook. 

I run the following online courses for Women On Writing:
How to write A children's book and get published
5 picture books in 5 weeks
How to write a hobby-based how to book