1. Don’t think it’s easy. You need to have lived. You need to have read (lots and lots). You need to have something to say. You need to have developed a voice, a style, an ease of telling…
2. Don’t over-write it. Write the story, then cut, cut, cut! Every word needs to need to be there, and the fewer the better (preferably under 500). Prune the beginning, cut to the quick, then chop, rebuild, chop, rebuild, chop, chop, chop till it’s perfect.
3. Don’t describe stuff. Just tell the story – the speech and the action. The illustrator will add colour to your world, and depth to your characters and their story.
5. Don’t illustrate it, unless you’re an illustrator (and a very good one, at that).
6. Don’t ask someone else to illustrate it for you, either. The publisher will find the right person.
7. Don’t tell the illustrator how to do their job. You wouldn’t want them telling you how to write it.
9. Don’t rhyme, unless the story steadfastly refuses to be told any other way. And unless you’re a brilliant rhymester, with perfect scansion.
10. Don’t lose touch with children. You’re writing for the young people of now and of the future. You need to know, understand and very much like them.
11. Don’t skimp on the reading aloud. Rhythm, and a delightful ease in the telling, are key - and only reading your story aloud many many times will show if it’s perfect.
12. Don’t just write a story. Write one that needs to be told, with something real and true of yourself in it. Write with heart, from somewhere deep inside you. Write something that truly affects and enchants the reader / listener - something that matters.
13. Don’t make it too easy for your main character. Get them into trouble. Then more trouble. Then, just when you think it couldn’t get any worse...
14. Don’t think it’s easy. (Didn't I say that somewhere before?) Only the best is good enough for children. The best words in the best places, the best characters in the best stories…
15. Don't expect to make a fortune. Or even a decent living. Do it because you have to. Do it because you have stories inside you demanding to be told. Write because you're a writer.
16. And don’t send a story out till it’s finished. A picture book may take months, even years, and hundreds of drafts, to get right. Ask it every question, look at it from every angle, till you’re completely satisfied with it. And then…
(with thanks to James and Celia Catchpole, Martin Waddell, Mem Fox and everyone else along the way…)
Malachy’s latest picture book is called Peek-a-Book, and it’s illustrated by Rowan Martin and published by Parragon Books on August 8.
His storybook Pete and the Five-a-Side Vampires is published by Firefly Press on September 18 - and the most exciting thing about this one, for Malachy, is that it’s illustrated by his daughter Hannah! Whoopy-doo!