Monday, 14 June 2021

PERFORMING PICTURE BOOKS

 My fourth picture book is published on 24th June. The Lion on the Bus is illustrated by Jeff Harter and follows an eventful bus journey through the eyes of a little girl happily singing ‘The Wheels on the Bus.’ When she spots a lion get on, she sings:



Her mother is lost in a book and oblivious to the fact that her daughter's song is describing what is happening around her - as yet more ferocious animals board the bus, eventually taking the passengers hostage! Don't worry. It's all right in the end. 

 

I came up with the idea for this book when I was singing The Wheels on the Bus with my daughter and one of us (we don't agree on which one) started singing The Lion on the Bus goes RAR RAR RAR! 

I wondered what a lion would be doing on a bus then wrote this book to answer that question.

While most picture books are designed to be read aloud, this one is designed to be sung so requires some level of performance. 

As the author, I am dying to get out and perform this book. I find that picture books come to life through performance in ways that often surprises and intrigues me.  I often learn something new about my own books when I read them in public, because it allows me to see them through my audience's eyes.

When I’m writing a picture book, I will read it aloud countless times to ensure that the words trip off the tongue, rather than the tongue tripping over the words, but reading a book to an audience is an entirely different experience. 

With 3 picture books out this year, I can't wait for the return of school visits, festival shows and library events. Happily, I've got a few lined up so I've been reminding myself of the important things to remember when performing a picture book. 
                                
1. EVERY PERFORMANCE IS A REHEARSAL

You can practice reading your book in advance all you like but you won't be able to properly rehearse it until you have an audience in front of you (no matter how small). For me, it takes a good 5 or 6 public readings before I have properly learned how to perform one of my books. Even after 50 performances, I still discover new ways to improve the reading - and quite often these ideas come from the audience.


2. KNOW THE BOOK, SHOW THE BOOK

The best readings (especially of picture books) don’t actually involve much reading. With a new picture book, I might still be reading the words for the first few performances, but eventually these words get ingrained in my head like the lyrics of a song and this means I can focus on all the other aspects of the performance. It also means I can hold the book so that the audience can see the pictures. 


3. ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER 

With my first picture book, The Dinosaurs are Having a Party (illustrated by Garry Parsons) I get the audience to roar a lot and, at one point to throw tantrum, shouting, "It's not fair and nobody cares!" In Are You the Pirate Captain? (also with Garry) I have them hammering nails, chipping off snails and swabbing the decks. With Rabunzel (illustrated by Loretta Schauer) I have discovered that the audience love to bring the hungry eyes creatures to life with growls howl, hisses and eagle screeches - although mine often sound more like seagull squawks. I don't think about these interactive elements when I'm writing the books. Nor when I'm commenting on the illustrations. I usually discover them through the performance itself. 
 

4. ENGAGE AND CONNECT

The more engagement, the better when it comes to reading books in schools. The more you can keep the audience involved the less chance you give them to wriggle about and get distracted. Don’t be afraid to stop and ask a question or add in a funny aside. Or maybe you have a puppet. Or a prop like this treasure map that Garry made. Or a song. Whatever you can do to make the reading more than a reading will really help hold your audience's  attention.


5. ALLS WELL THAT END'S WELL

No matter how clear it is to you that your beautifully composed conclusion signifies the end of the book, your audience may not realise it's over. Perhaps you can indicate it's the end with an emphatic closing of the final page. Or maybe you have a song to finish with. Or is there a repeated phrase or action that the audience can join in with that will let them know it's all done? It’s worth thinking about because, although it is perfectly fine to end with the words “And that’s the end of this book,” there will always be a more satisfying way to conclude.  

And that’s the end of this blog.  


Gareth P Jones’ new book The Lion on the Bus is illustrated by Jeff Harper and published by Farshore Books. You can see him talking (and singing) about the book on 24th June at Moon Lane TV. He is appearing at Camp Bestival & Latitude this summer and is currently taking bookings for school visits, library events and festivals.  
 




Monday, 7 June 2021

28 Creatives and What Inspires Them To Write and Draw (Plus a MEGA GIVEAWAY!)


What inspires you to be creative?
The publishing industry is pitted with challenges and obstacles, a lot of which are out of our control, which means it's even more important to keep WHY we create at the forefront of our minds.

In today's Picture Book Den post you'll hear from 28 picture book creators about what helps the words flow, the ideas strike, AND what keeps them going through hard times.

CLARE HELEN WELSH:

Being creative makes me feel good. In particular, I find writing a very mindful activity, allowing me to process what’s buzzing around my head, either in a conscious or unconscious way. Of course, there are times when writing can be hugely frustrating, but the breakthrough moments make it worthwhile. As well as the personal gains, I also write for others - be that my own children, children I've taught, my godchildren or those I've yet to meet. It makes me very happy to think of my books bringing something special to bedtimes, difficult times and lesson times. I often aspire to write books I would have used if I were still a teacher myself. Keeping these internal and external gains close at heart, helps me through the ups and downs.



LUCY ROWLAND:

'I write because it's such an amazing feeling to watch a little seed of an idea grow into a whole book which can be enjoyed by children and families. I am inspired to write when something crosses my mind and makes me think 'Now, who might need a story about that?' That's why I wrote Wanda's Words Got Stuck.'


                                                      EMMA REYNOLDS:

For my picture books, words and pictures come together. Often I'll start with a character that sparks something special, and then I will write a story about them. I'm inspired by nature and saving it, imagination and the magic found in the everyday, and making books about kindness.


                                                              

                                                        KAREN SWANN:


I write because I have stories in my head that I want to tell, in a way that only I can tell them. I keep writing because there are always more stories that need to be told.

 


 KATE THOMPSON:

 As writers we have the power to transform a blank sheet of paper into something that will empower, reassure, or simply entertain children (and hopefully their grownups) - it's a pretty amazing super power! I can’t control what happens to my manuscripts once they’re out in the world, but I’ll keep writing as long as I have stories and characters in my head that need to be created.


 
FIONA BARKER:

I started writing as a bit of a challenge, sort of to see if I could do it. I found out there was a lot to learn and I’ve been trying to get it right ever since! It’s so satisfying to start with an idea or a character and build a story around them.



PADDY DONNELLY:

I write stories that I want to illustrate. I build in all of the things that fascinated me as a child, and I love that creative process of crafting words and images simultaneously to form one story. It was an extra special treat that my debut author illustrated picture book was based on a real disappearing and reappearing lake near my hometown in Ireland. Getting to share a little piece of magic from home in my stories is definitely a motivating factor for me.




CATHERINE EMMETT:

I write because I’ve started to realise that I can’t ‘not’ write! There are too many voices in my head that demand attention.  Often, I can find myself a bit distracted with life and realise that I haven’t written anything for a while. When I’m writing a picture book and it’s going well, I have a huge sense of contentment and satisfaction – I find something in the process of constructing a story (particularly rhymers) is very calming. When writing is going well, everything else goes well!



EMILY DAVISON:

My brain is bursting with ideas, which is what keeps me going with my writing! I’m always so excited when a new idea POPS into my head!! The chance that one of these ideas may actually make it onto a shelf and bring joy and excitement to children, absolutely blows my mind. I feel very lucky that in 2022, my debut picture book will be making its BIG entrance into the world and I can’t wait to reveal more about it in the coming months.



RACHAEL DAVIS:

Three things inspire me to write: my mum, my children and books! I first started writing as a way to channel my emotions when my mum got sick. After having my daughters, I was blown away by the incredible range of children’s books being published, and it made me want to try to write my own stories. But I also began to reflect on the fact that growing up I never saw myself in children’s fiction. Representation in children’s books still has a long way to go, but I’m hoping that I can be a tiny part of the solution and I’m really excited to share my debut picture book with the world in 2022.

                                                                

                                                    MEREDITH VIGH:

Inspiration can come from anywhere - things my children say, something I saw online, a random title that pops into my head or a verse of rhyme that appears seemingly from nowhere.  Sometimes a germ of an idea hovers on the edge of my brain and needs teasing out to become fully formed.  Generally, for me to write I must feel excited by a project, but there have been occasions where I’ve forced through a block and ended up creating some of my best work.  I write because I can’t NOT write.  Each story is a challenge - but writing is FUN!  And to create something lovely for children in a world that is so often ugly feels like a worthwhile thing to do. 

                                               

                                                FRANCES STICKLEY:

I’m a bit of a compulsive daydreamer, and I always have been. I never really stopped escaping into my head and I like to furnish my worlds with all the little details and all the character nuances so I would imagine that’s what made me want to write it all down. I started writing poetry when I was 6; It was a poem about my Dad’s milk float getting stuck in the snow. They do say that, if you’re a writer, you write for the age-group you were when you first fell in love with stories, so I wonder if that’s perhaps when it happened for me.


                                                             
                                                     LEONIE ROBERTS:

I write despite numerous rejections because when I am writing, editing  or coming up with new ideas, that's when I am at my happiest. Nothing else gives me this sense of bliss. So, even if I don't write for months or need to take a break from the rejections, I always go back to it. I feel it's important to do what you love.


                                                             
                                                     DONNA DAVID:

I write because you can stay in your pajamas all day and 'work' in bed.  I write because you can secretly be watching YouTube whilst everyone thinks you're working.  I write because there are no colleagues to judge you for having a family size bag of Maltesers for lunch (again).  What's not to love?



SUSANNAH LLOYD:

I was a late starter to writing. It took me until I was nearly forty to realise that I should begin writing, but now I’m making up for lost time. Now I think that, even in all those years when I didn’t write a thing, and even though I didn’t know it, I was always a picture book writer deep down.  I always loved picture books with an almost religious reverence, and whenever I read a sentence than really shone, I used to think  “I really wish I had written that!” 

Ideas tend to float into my head unannounced when I’m far from my desk, and occupied with other things. I gather up little stacks of random notes that I’ve made on scraps of paper, the backs of soap packets and crumpled up bun wrappers... and try to turn them into a story. 



LAURA BAKER:

I write because of the magic and power of books. For me a book isn’t simply a story. It’s a memory, and a shared experience. It’s the feeling of reading with a grown-up, or a group, or a special sibling or friend, over and over – a feeling that sticks with you. I grew up loving Dogger, so I’m all about finding stories in the real situations of children. I enjoy picking up on little phrases or actions that kids say or do and making more out of them. I love peeking into a child’s world and seeing where it can take you – and where it can take them. Most recently, my picture book favourite and inspiration has to be John Condon and Matt Hunt’s The Pirates are Coming! – a retelling with humour, heart and TWO twists. What more could you strive for?



                                                   CATHERINE JACOB:

I’m inspired to write by my children. Betsy Buglove is based on my eldest daughter, who’s a real nature lover. I first wrote a Betsy story when she was five years old and would always be found looking under rocks, naming families of woodlice, or saving bees and butterflies from peril on pavements. It’s the same with many of my books: they all start the seed of an idea that might entertain my three children (4, 9 and 11) or sometimes, that comes up in a game they’re playing, and it goes from there. I write when inspiration strikes, which can often be in the most unusual place, particularly, for some reason, while driving long distances! 



                                                                
                                                  RASHMI SIRDESHPANDE:

I write for children because they're so curious and so full of hope and wonder. I write to make them smile, laugh, feel, think, and dream. And I write for me. Because it feels right. Because it feels like I've found My Thing.


                                            
        JANE CLARKE:

I write because I've always enjoyed telling stories. I loved making up funny bedtime stories for my sons when they were small. When I worked in a school library, I took requests (the first was for a little girl called Jasmine, who wanted a story about a Princess, a rabbit and shopping). It was the teachers who told me I had to write them down! It gives me enormous pleasure to think that now lots of children can enjoy them.


  
NATASCHA BIEBOW:

I love to write! I am always writing even when I'm not. I see ideas for stories everywhere. I challenge myself to learn one new fact every day - chances are there's a story there and, sometimes, even a book. Our world is filled with wonder and seeing it with the kind of curiosity that is inate to children is a special thing to keep hold of. I love being able to capture that magic on the page by making books and sharing it with young readers. The books I am making now are true stories – they read like storybooks but they are 100% fact. I love doing all the research, learning new facts and the process of finding and shaping the STORY. Sometimes, it's hard work that takes so much time and perseverance, but when it comes together, you have this amazing colourful piece of work that you can share with kids and grown-ups and that is really special.
 


JOHN CONDON:

What inspires me to write is the joy of bringing a character to life and sending them off on an adventure. And the hope that this character will some day take a child on that adventure with them.

       
GARETH P JONES

I write for different reasons: to discover something, because I want to find out what happens next or because I just want to play with an idea. I find picture books the hardest thing to write because thinking visually doesn't come very naturally to me, but when I do get one off the ground I love the collaboration with illustrators and I love how the end result is something I could never do on my own. 




LEISA STEWART-SHARPE:

I write non fiction and picture books about the natural world and its strange and wonderful creatures. By telling their stories, I hope to inspire young people to take an interest in our wonderful world and the amazing plants and animals we share it with.


                                                      
                                                     ALICE HEMMING:

For me, writing is my creative outlet, my therapy and, happily, how I earn a living. In hard times it's the writing itself that keeps me going, along with the support of friends and family, yoga, and cake.




                                                     KARL NEWSON:

Why I write? Well, naturally,
like a fish in the sky,
or a bird in the sea, 
it's just a thing that happens to me
while I'm busy dunking biscuits.




                                                    ALISON DONALD:

All children's authors are big kids at heart and I'm no exception! I love to put myself in the shoes of a child and to write a story from their point of view. I hope that my books will be an escape for kids - especially during difficult times.  The thing that keeps me going is that I genuinely love to write. I try to focus on the enjoyment I get from writing rather than focusing on publishing deals. If I'm enjoying what I'm doing, it comes through in my writing.



                                                  
LOU TRELEAVEN

 love creating imaginary worlds just from some black and white text on a page - it's such a magical process.  I also love seeing a book come to life and all the stages in between. To be a part of that journey is such a thrill.

What keeps me going through hard times: writing, reading, and my family and pets.  Being able to escape into imagination is a great resource.




                                                     NATELLE QUEK:

I communicate with people through art. It's something that's always a constant in my life and I feel like I can put thoughts and emotions through illustration that are quite difficult for me to convey otherwise. I hope to create stories that connect people to each other, that offer tiny worlds to escape to, that resonate with someone enough for them to create memories that they can carry with them for many years to come.




To enter this MEGA GIVEAWAY, winning a copy of all the books pictured above, simply leave a comment at the bottom of this post and we'll pick a winner at random. Closes midnight 13th June. (UK Only) 

Titles include:

Amelie and the Great Outdoors - Fiona Barker and Rosie Brooks
Amara and the Bats - Emma Reynolds (will be posted in July)
Betsy Buglove Saves the Bees - Catherine Jacob and *8 (will be posted in July)
Blue Planet 2 - Leisa Stewart- Sharpe and Amy Dove
Danny and the Dream Dog- Fiona Barker and Howard Gray
Firefly Home - Jane Clarke and Britta Teckentrup
Here Be Dragons - Susannah Lloyd and Paddy Donnelly
If You See a Lion - Karl Newson and Adrean Stegmaier
Love You Always - Frances Stickley and Migy Blanco
Oh no, Bobo! - Donna David and Laura Watkins
My Colourful Chameleon - Leonie Roberts and Mike Byrne
Never Teach a Stegasaurus to Do Sums - Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Diane Ewen
Setusko and the Song of the Sea - Fiona Barker and Howard Gray
Superheroes Don't Get Scared - Kate Thompson and Clare Elsom
The Colour of Happy - Laura Baker and Angie Rozelaar
The Knight Who Might - Lou Treleaven and Kyle Beckett
The Leaf Theif - Alice Hemming and Nicola Slater
The Little Mermaid - Natelle Quek and Anna Kemp
The Perfect Shelter - Clare Helen Welsh and Asa Gilland
The Pet - Catherine Emmett and David Tazzyman
The Pirates Are Coming - John Condon and Matt Hunt
The Tale of the Whale - Karen Swann and Pacmandara
The Vanishing Lake - Paddy Donnelly
Wanda's Words Got Stuck - Lucy Rowland and Paula Bowles
What will you dream of tonight? - Frances Stickley and Anuska Allepuz 
The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons - Natascha Biebow and Steven Salerno