Saturday, 5 January 2013

Why do you write picture books? by Jane Clarke

I didn't set out to be a picture book writer.  

I loved sharing picture books and making up stories for my sons when they were small, but it never occurred to me then to try to write one.  Archaeology and history were my thing. My books and my writing were weighty and academic.



Then my husband’s work took us to the Netherlands, and my much-loved job had to be left behind. I did some substitute teaching at Antwerp International School and became a part time library assistant there. 

The best part of the job was reading picture books aloud to classes of children in Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten and First Grade  and helping them choose their books. I learned how picture books could work on different levels for the adult reader as well as the child listener, and how clever yet deceptively simple they could be. Soon, picture books were my favourite books in the library. 


Then one day, Jasmine, a little girl in Grade 1 asked for a book about ‘a princess, a rabbit and shopping.’ She wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and came back day after day to find out if the library had one yet.  She was so persistent I ended up saying I’d write her a story - Hoppy Shopping, Princess Jasmine. I enjoyed the challenge of cutting down the word count and as I revised it, and cut the text into pages, the pictures began to form in my mind…

I had a lot to learn and it was a long journey before my first published picture book was in the library:   


Although Hoppy Shopping, Princess Jasmine never made it into print, the Jasmine moment is the moment I became a picture book writer.

What’s yours?

13 comments:

  1. Now I want to read about the rabbit shopping with Princess Jasmine!
    I fell in love with picture books by selling them in a children's Bookshop and, like you in the library, matching children to particular books that they then loved with a devotion it's hard to beat.
    I think it was the game between words and pictures and book format that challenged and intrigued me ... and the treat of being illustrated by somebody with such skills.

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  2. I didn't set out to be a picture book writer either, Jane. As a child I loved books and I played with writing bits of poetry and my own stories, but, when it came to the big career choice I chose law. I qualified as a barrister and worked as a lawyer for a while but I missed creative work so I started doing art courses in the evenings. When my children were born I took a break from law and did the art foundation course, then a course on illustration at Central St Martins. Having my own children meant I was reading picture books every day and I remembered how much I loved them. I started drawing and writing my own and found my lovely agent and the rest is history! Now I still work in law three days a week and I write but don't illustrate (partly because I have limited time, partly because my wonderful illustrator, Lauren Beard, is soooo much better than I am).

    It's funny where life ends up taking you!

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  3. The princess and rabbit going shopping, eh? What happened? I must know!

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    1. Well,Moira, since you ask...Princess Jasmine takes an increasingly disgruntled (and apparently spoiled) royal rabbit on a shopping trip for diamonds and other exclusive goodies - but it turns out that the royal rabbit wants carrots rather than carats...

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  4. Sounds like a great story!
    I think children are the best source of ideas for picture books. The story they suggest may not turn out the way we expect but their take on life makes us rediscover that innocent approach to everything and reminds us to take nothing for granted.

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  5. I'm not sure if I can pinpoint the moment I became a picture book writer, but I can trace the moment I started writing in earnest (before picture books I wrote, and still write, silly poems) to when my two year-old son trod on Michael Rosen's glasses and broke them. It's a long story...

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    1. It's one I'd like to hear, Elli!

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    2. Me, too, Elli. And I loce the theme of the rabbit, the princess and shopping, and what you eventually did with it.
      After years of writing novels - junior and Young Adult, mostly - I've become more and more entranced by picture book. The good ones are very, very good, and memorable in the way poetry is memorable (the least said about the bad ones, the better).
      I have two of mine coming out this year, which is very exciting.

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  6. I love this post! It took me a while to realize my passion for picture books. But now we have a growing collection and my daughters love me reading to them! I don't know how long it will take me to get published, but I'll enjoy researching (buying and checking out books, reading to my children and anyone who will listen) until then! :) I would love to know any tips on how to get started...I'm clueless. Would anyone like to aim me please??

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    1. By reading so many picture books, you're already absorbing how to write them, Isla. For learning about the craft, nuts and bolts help, plus friendly support, I'd recommend joining The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - Google SCBWI - there are groups all over the world. Also, take a look at Wordpool. Good luck!

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    2. Jane, thank you so much for the reply!! I figured pouring over them would help and my daughters and I are benefiting from it GREATLY! I'm going to my first SCBWI conference next month! I appreciate the advice and really enjoy reading your blog! Thanks again! http://islacunninghambooks.blogspot.com/

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  7. So interesting, Jane.
    I used to write publicity and advertising because I preferred writing short stuff (I've never had a desire to write a long novel). Then I had children and discovered contemporary picture books. I loved these books and still do. As I already worked in publishing (albeit, non fiction), the world of publishing didn't feel alien and therefore I wrote and sent off some of my own stories to see what would happen. Of course, I had to persevere!

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  8. Thank you to everyone who shared their stories, I enjoyed reading them.

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