Sunday, 1 January 2012

Pssssst….. Moira Butterfield

….We’ve got a secret! We know that a good picture book is not something you can dash off one free evening in front of the telly. The process is more akin to a jeweller meticulously creating an intricate Fabergé egg, or perhaps a clockmaker hunched lovingly over a mechanism where every small part must work to create the whole. The process could be compared to the thoughtful craft of a poet, or the painting of exquisite miniatures. It needs to have perfect reading rhythm, good pace and offer the space and opportunity for adding wonderful images to complete the treasure.
I say this is a secret because nobody else seems to know, or so it sometimes seems to me at this time of year. Every Yuletide or New Year social gathering seems to bring at least one fellow guest who thinks that writing picture books is child’s play, so I propose a new addition to banned topics at non-publishing social occasions. Alongside ‘no politics’ and ‘no religion’, let’s have ‘no picture book ideas.’
You know how it goes:
“You write books for children? I’ll do that one day, when I’m not working any more.”
“I’ve written a picture book. My children said they liked it. I’ll sell it for squillions probably. It’s about an elephant, which is good because it rhymes with ‘and then to the moon it went’. See? Brilliant!”
To which you reply…
“Actually, I’ll have you know that according to the internet I’m like a jeweller with a Fabergé egg and….Oh, forget it.”
To quote the Christmas Eastenders Special: “Leave it. It’s not worth it, love.” It doesn’t matter, and why should your neighbours understand? It’s when an editor appears not to know the secret that it gets difficult. I’m thinking of those rare but painful occasions when a publishing employee changes some words and messes up the rhythm wholesale, or decides to change the extent of the book three weeks after you’ve finished, or maybe even comes up with one of those breezy throwaway emails along the lines of:
“Hey, Fabergé. I know I said I wanted an egg, but can you change it to a banana?”
“Look, Wordsworth. Here’s the thing. Daffodils don’t sell in the US. Tulips are all the rage now.”
Ah well. They say you should never get grumpy in a blog, but this my first one, so forgive me, and put it down to one too many mulled wines.
So anyway, I’m thinking of taking up brain surgery in 2012. How hard can it be? I’ve got a free evening on Wednesdays…


  1. Happy New Year, Moira. I love the Fabergé egg comparison.

    It always surprises me, with so many books on how to write for children available for new writers, why anyone interested in this kind of work doesn't take it seriously enough to read up on it first.
    But then if they consider it so easy perhaps they don't think they need to learn anything about it.

    I know one very successful children's author who writes gritty realism for teens who gets understandably irritated with certain acquaintances who always ask her
    'so, are you still writing your little books then?'

    You can imagine how this kind of attitude would relate to someone who is writing a picture book.

    But there are many who love and understand picture books and of course the children we write for - in the end they are the ones who really matter!

  2. Haha. Great post Moira - I recognise those comments. I have also been asked "do you think you'll ever write a proper book?"

  3. I can relate to your comments, I've heard them time and again. However last year I gifted a copy my latest picture book to a friend (he'd just become a dad). The next time I popped into his office he introduced me as Lynne the author, "a proper author she's been published and everything!" It did make me smile and I'm still trying to work out what the "and everything' is.

  4. Love this blog, Moira. And you can operate on my brain whenever you feel like it, but please avoid scalpels.
    Happy New Year! XX

  5. Great, Moira - you've really hit the nail on the head! I'm sure these comments will resonate with most children's books authors...

  6. Well said, Moira. I think blog grumpiness is under-rated.

  7. Ha ha, I laughed out loud at the egg/banana and daffodil/tulip observations. That's what it feels like and it's so frustrating. Although just occasionally (really occasionally!) the bananas and tulips work better, darn it.

  8. Sure doesn't BLOG stand for Big Load of Grumpiness. Better out than in, says I.

  9. I like that, Malachy! And yes, Paeony, those editors are sometimes right, darn 'em.

  10. This does hit home. At a workshop, I was recently asked if I 'would ever write a book for grown ups?' I forgot ( as I often do when asked a direct question) that I spent years writing academic books and papers for 'grown ups'. But it wasn't as much fun. And it required a whole different set of skills. Funny thing is, during all those years writing for stuffy old grown ups, no one ever asked me if I would ever try and write a picture book ;)

  11. Lovely post! How I laughed.........

    Happy New Year and back to the eggface

  12. When I worked in Heffers Children's Bookshop I was once asked if I would get moved on to selling books for adults if I did really well at selling for children!!! That person went right down in my estimation!

  13. Child: When are you going to write a proper book?
    Me: How do you mean, a proper book?
    Child: Oh, you know, one for adults.

    When it comes from a young person, that's just plain odd.