Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Ping! moments by Jane Clarke

You’ll know from reading other blog posts on the Den that texts rarely pop into your head fully formed. It’s only happened to me once - in December 2008 and that instant moment has taken until now to see it in print. 

It was when I took my son Andy to visit his brother, then working as an adventure tour guide in Venezuela. Rob and his business partner Luis took us to Los Llanos to look for anaconda - and we found one!


It was very sluggish and sleepy because it was digesting a huge meal. We had to be careful not to disturb it because that might make it regurgitate… PING!!! A rhyme popped into my head plus title - I Saw Anaconda!
The elements that all came together at that moment were:

  • The anaconda and the wonderful Venezuelan wildlife we saw on the trip.
  • The rhyme ‘There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly’ - specifically the version illustrated by  Pam Adams which I’d read aloud many times.




  • An adventurous boy who hadn't changed that in that respect much since he was little.
  • Being bitten by lots of bugs when I passed out in the grass after the skydive, and having to check myself for ticks after (Xmas present from Rob that year, sheer terror, thanks, Rob).




  • A regurgitating ‘happy’ ending.


When I got back, I sent off the rhyme to my agent, who loved it - and who sent it on to publishers. Over the next five years it got rejected - A LOT. Everyone who saw the text liked it, but the feedback was there were too many words on the final pages, it would be too hard to illustrate, Venezuelan wildlife (especially tick, skink and caiman) wasn’t easily recognisable or cute enough.

Then, long after I’d resigned myself to it never becoming a book, Nosy Crow took the text, tick, skink and all. It published on 1 September 2016.  I’m absolutely in awe of the clever way Nosy Crow have presented it with pull out snake and flaps - and Emma Dodd’s fab illustrations.



It's been a while since that trip. Rob and Amy (they met in Venezuela) married and they have a 2 year old daughter and another on the way, and Andy’s married to Helen and they have a daughter, too.  I’ve become a grandma and ditched the hair dye, and it's highly unlikely that I will go anaconda hunting (or skydiving) again, though hopefully lots of new adventures await.








So thank you, thank you, thank you, The Catchpole Agency for sticking with it and for the Nosy Crow team and Emma Dodd for bringing it to life, I’ll treasure ‘I saw Anaconda’ as a reminder of an amazing and unrepeatable experience.

I wish you picture book writers out there a happy PING moment in your writing lives, too. If you’ve already had one, l’d love to hear about it in the comments!



17 comments:

  1. That's am amazing story, Jane. And what wonderful memories the book has for you, that you can pass on to your grandchildren. But especially well done for recognising the creative moment and then using it, not just forgetting/filing/ignoring it. That's impressive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Moira, it was a hit-me-over-the-head moment, so I didn't need to write it down for once (mostly I get half baked ideas I have to record or they're lost)

      Delete
  2. What a gift to have it all arrive so neatly (if in fairly extreme conditions!), and what a valuable different sort of gift to have an agent who kept faith with the text, and then a publisher with a fresh vision of how picture books can work. Wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, lots of serendipitous moments coming together, I was very lucky, I know.

      Delete
  3. What a great story behind the story. And Moira's right -it's great that you seized the idea and did something with it. Congratulations! I hope that I Saw Anaconda is even more successful than your skydive...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Already is, Clare, I didn't faint when I saw it!

      Delete
  4. Congratulations on the book, Jane. You really piqued my interest - wanna see how it turned out. I hope that skydive has not traumatised you too much. I would never have gone through with it! OMG!

    (And lucky you ... grandchildren!)

    ReplyDelete
  5. What a great story (about writing a great story). Your patience is inspirational.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheers David, most kudos for patience should be given to The Catchpole Agency!

      Delete
  6. Amazing story - I've just ordered it to read to my two little granddaughters! I had a ping moment for a middle grade book whilst driving home from a Sassie Conference in Peterborough - started writing it but other projects have taken over. But I will continue. I hope Anaconda does really well - can't wait to read it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Kit, I hope your little granddaughters enjoy it. Hope you find time to write your ping project x

      Delete
  7. I adore hearing the inspiration behind stories and 'I Saw Anaconda' is full of it. Wonderful! I've had lots of PING moments for story ideas and characters but never for a full story. By the way, did your 'life flash before you' when you jumped out of the plane - I'd always felt that was a weird cliche until I too jumped from a plane and time seemed to slow and past memories flowed in those four seconds before the parachute went up. Like you - never again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad I'm not the only one, Paeony! Yep, I experienced that weird slowing down of time, but can't say I did the past memories. The free-fall was such an all-consuming, amazing experience I forgot to be scared at that point. It was only after the parachute opened and I had time to think that sheer terror kicked in.

      Delete
  8. Hooray! So pleased this is being published. I'll look out for it xx

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a great story-behind-the-story, Jane! I love those rare PING! moments. I could use one right now; slowly cranking back up to writing after six weeks off with the kids. I think maybe I need to go to Venezuela... ;)

    ReplyDelete