Monday, 20 January 2014

Digging Deep - Winter on Picture Book Island by Malachy Doyle




Back in July I wrote a blog called Summer on Picture Book Island.  A number of people said ‘Oh, you lucky thing!’ 

But Jonathan Allen, ever the sceptic, said ‘Yeah, but I bet it’s not like that in the depths of winter.’  So here’s an update.

7 a.m.  Dog yapping downstairs - ‘I want my breakfast!’  Writer puts earplugs in, and tries to ignore her.

7.15 a.m.  Dog ups the decibels.  Writer tumbles from warm bed.  In dressing gown and slippers, he descends to the chill of the kitchen. (It's the artist's dressing gown, by the way.  Writer's one got peed on by the cat and is in the washing machine. Long story.  And I know I look silly in it.) 


7.30 a.m.  Menagerie now fed.  Time to feed writer – muesli, orange juice, lapsang souchong, toast and tawny orange marmalade.  Writer is a creature of habit.  Reads last of the last Alice Munro, and sighs. (Watched over by grandson - who came to stay over Christmas, bringing untold delight).

 8 a.m.  Writer riddles rayburn (not allowed to do so before eight as it wakes the artist, sleeping above).  Gets the heat of the house going and brings artist her first mug of tea.

8.30 a.m. Writer switches on computer.  Checks email.  Has quick read of current picture book.  Changes ‘gone’ to ‘flown’.  Hyphenates ‘hot-air’.  Smiles.

9 a.m. Writer brings tea two to artist.  Dons running gear.  Running is writer’s latest obsession.  He aims to celebrate his 60th birthday, in June, by completing his first marathon.  Is writer mad? 



9.10 a.m. Sets out, with dog, into the crisp, chilly air.  Up the lane, past the holiday cottages, along the road, over the sand dunes, across the beach, past the cemetery and home.  5k.  Under 25 minutes.  Not bad for an old fella.

9.50 a.m. Writer lets the ducks out.  Two eggs.  Artist has risen, as has the temperature (inside).  Time for shower and second breakfast. 

10.30 a.m.  Back to the story.  Working on it for two months now.  Initially it involved a trip to the zoo.  Agent liked the idea, but felt that zoo was ‘tacked on’ and asked writer to ‘find an adventure that grows organically out of the core idea… so it all ties indivisibly together and resonates with that core idea more directly and more meaningfully’  Serious business, this picture book lark.  Doesn’t get any easier, no matter how long you’ve been at it.

So the zoo disappeared.  Prose turned to rhyme - sometimes you just can’t stop it - and a new plot appeared, involving cupcakes.  Agent’s view?  ‘It’s starting to get somewhere.  The domestic set-up is beautifully done, and funny too.  But the second half feels undercooked.’  A pun on cupcakes, presumably - agent has a wry humour.  ‘Ending feels more like a twist or punchline than a real ending that ties things up.  It feels closer to the core of the idea, but I need you to dig deeper!’  

Thunder, lightning and emotional depth added.  Agent liked it.  Tried it out on publisher.  Who said, ‘Here we have the beginning of a potentially appealing character around whom an emotionally expansive story could be written.  But, as it currently stands, it doesn’t take the reader far enough. In fact, it doesn’t really take them anywhere.’   Oh dear.

Agent said, ‘Go find a new story that gets right to the core of what it feels like to be that character.  DIG DEEPER!’   

The story has to fly, and that’s where the hot-air balloon comes in.  I’m digging, digging, digging, and I know I’ve got to get there this time.  There’s only so many times you can to-and-fro a piece before people lose faith in it.

12.30 p.m. Lunchtime.  Sitting round the rayburn, with soda bread and beetroot soup.  It’s winter on Picture Book Island.  A time of wind and rain, of hail and storm, of occasional frost and even more occasional snow.  A time for wrapping up warm.  For bedding down and digging deeper.

But already snowdrops are peeping up through the cold cold soil.  Already daffodils are shooting, and montbretia, a blaze of orange later in the year, is pushing its way out.

And my story’s finding its form.  At last it's finding its form. 

 

P.S. Snowy pix are from a previous winter.  Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.


Malachy is pleased to announce that The Snuggle Sandwich, his picture book with the illustrator Gwen Millward, has been shortlisted for the Dundee Picture Book Award.

Also his most recent picture book, Too Noisy, with Ed Vere, has been nominated for the Greenaway Award.
                   

   

21 comments:

  1. Congrats on the shortlisting and the nomination - I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. The bits about changing one word and putting a hyphen in made me smile. Been there and at the moment doing that!

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    1. Thanks Lynne. Relentlessly striving for perfection, that's us.

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  2. It's good to know even the experience picture book writers have all this to-ing and fro-ing! And winter on Picture Book Island sounds blissful.

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    1. Oh yes, Alex. It doesn't get any easier - you just get more confident that you're going to crack it eventually. Or if you don't with this one, you will with the next.

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  3. Just what I needed to read this morning, Malachy. I love all the bits about the agent comments (and the editor comments) -well I love the inclusion of them in this post, at least! Sounds like it might just be a winner... and congratulations on your nominations. Thanks...

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    1. Glad to be of assistance, Clare. It's hard work, but it's oh so worth it when you eventually get it right, isn't it?

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  4. "Hyphenates ‘hot-air’." Hmm. Hopes it's in 'hot-air balloon'.
    Pen

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    1. It is, Pen. It is. (Yes, I know I'm full of hot air, but I'm trying to be entertaining, right?)

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    2. And succeeding, as always.
      Pen

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  5. Congratulations on the shortlisting and nomination, Malachy, and thanks for telling us about your winter day. Happy digging!

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  6. Lovely! I really like your 'day-in-the-life-of' posts, Malachy. Even with all that winter you make it sound idyllic! Much as I love my kids I am secretly looking forward to a bit more peace, so I don't have to write at gymnastics pickup or in between helping with homework!

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  7. Congratulations on the nominations, Malachy. And now you've made me feel hungry for toast and tea! Good to hear your story is growing well, along with the snowdrops.

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  8. Lovely post ;-) 'ever the skeptic' . . . Hmmm, you might be right but I shall remain skeptical about that claim. . . . . . Ever the smartass, me.

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  9. That's a lovely post and very reassuring for a debut writer. I am being edited at the moment and had a big wobble the publisher was disappointed in me because of all the changes she wants. She was quick to reassure me - but it is so nice to read about such a brilliant and experienced writer going through the same process! Congratulations in the shortlisted books too - I hope one day that editing will get me that far!

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    1. Thanks Anne. It's got to be as good as it can possibly be, and publishers / editors are there to help it get there. You don't have to always agree with their suggestions - there are times when it's important that you argue your case, strong and hard - but the more they feel you're willing to take their views on board, the more likely they are to want to work with you again. Good luck!

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  10. Fun post! Thanks! PS - Your dog is really adorable

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  11. Your island is another world and a long way from my terraced street, Malachy, but I adored reading about it. I've decided to live vicariously through your blog! Also enjoyed the editor/publisher comments - nebulous but you know what they mean. And congrats on the shortlist/nomination. Good luck.

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  12. I do love reading about your life on the island. I imagine you as a standing (but not still) stone. Part and parcel of the land. Only not in that gown, fetching though it is. Hope the digging's going well! Digging myself into a writing hole at the minute, deeper and deeper. Might need to take a u-turn.

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  13. That's a great morning, and a great dressing gown. I have one here, and it's definitely a "musing" dressing gown. Thanks for the pics of the Irish snow too. You've helped me out with a story possibility.

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    1. You're very welcome, Penny.

      And I hope you got out of the hole, Michelle - or that your time in there is proving fruitful!

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  14. they are my favourit books I never want your books to end

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