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.