Friday 26 October 2012

From start to finish – the making of The Fairytale Hairdresser and Cinderella by Abie Longstaff

Want to know what really happens behind the pages of a book?

Here’s a sneaky look at how my latest picture book took shape.

The Idea

The idea for the Fairytale Hairdresser series came about through my sisters. I am one of six girls and we used to play all kinds of crazy games (often involving dressing up the poor long-suffering dog). One of our favourite games was hairdressers and we had our own little salon going on in the family bathroom. I was reminiscing about the sinkfuls of bubbles with my sisters one day when a thought popped into my head: where do fairy tale characters go to get their hair done? I immediately thought of the Big Bad Wolf having his whiskers washed, and a series was born!

The Plot

Cinderella is the second in the series (the first focused on Rapunzel). Writing within a series is both easier and harder. It’s easier because you already have the set-up and characters – my main character, Kittie Lacey is a modern business woman who runs a salon caring for all the hair, beards, fur and fleece in Fairyland. I had a feel of how Kittie came across, and the template of her helping a fairy tale character to work with. But in series writing you have to make sure you develop your story on, and that the book fits well within past as well as future books. You do also feel the pressure of making sure the second book is as popular as the first.

The first thing I do with a Fairytale Hairdresser book is to work out which elements of the story I want to keep, which I want to adapt and which I want to ditch. To find which bits of the story resonate the most I ask around for advice - in the case of Cinderella, my children, my nephew and niece and friends' children told me they loved the dressing up and the ball scene and the hunt for Cinderella. Here is my plot scribble for Cinderella:

The challenge for me was to tie the story in with hair. My main character had to get in somehow. So, after much playing, I decided to give Cinderella a day job at the salon, and to use the device of a glass hairclip instead of a shoe to help the Prince find her.

The First Draft

Like a lot of authors, I only write part time. I have a day job and children, so drafts are often scribbled on the tube, at school pick-ups or in my lunch hour at work. I carry a teeny notebook around with me all the time so I can write down the truly brilliant ideas (it’s a very teeny notebook).

The first draft was dashed out as usual on the work commute:


Although I don’t illustrate, I always sketch out spreads in thumbnails – these help me get a feel for pacing, suspense, page turns and word count. So, after my teeny notebook stage, I draw thumbnails of the story in a bigger sketchbook like this:

Then I write and rewrite and write and rewrite, carrying my draft back and forth to my day job so I can scribble on it:

The Editor

When I have a draft I am happy with I send it off to my fantastic editor (I love him). He writes back with comments on my draft like this:

My draft:

'It was getting later and later. The moon was high in the sky.
(Moon with cow jumping over.)

Upstairs Kittie and Cinderella were pinning up the Queen’s fallen curls.

Now it was nearly midnight.

Downstairs every maiden wanted to dance with the Prince…

…and he was kept especially busy by the Wicked Step-Sisters, who grabbed him again and again and twirled him around till he was dizzy.'

Editor comments:

'I really love the upstairs/downstairs section, and I think Lauren will have great fun with this – it will make a really striking spread. I wonder, though, whether we could lose the lines ‘...and he was kept especially busy by the Wicked Step-Sisters, who grabbed him again and again...’, as it could be shown in the illustration. It rather breaks up the: upstairs..., downstairs..., upstairs..., downstairs...  Likewise the ‘it was getting later and later’, ‘now it was almost midnight’. The time progression would be implicit in all the activity, and we could try using little clocks showing the hour getting later and later'

The real illustrator

Once a next stage draft is agreed, the book goes off to my amazing illustrator, Lauren Beard, to work her magic. The spread above was turned into this rough:

Are there arguments?

A lot of people want to know the answer to this. The truth is – there are disagreements occasionally about what a story should include. It’s part of the process. But it's hard as a new writer to know whether to stand your ground. The publishers usually know what they are talking about much more than I do and so I mainly trust my editor (annoyingly he is most often right). But, if there is something I think is really important I will try and push my point.

In Cinderella one particular issue arose. I wanted the Prince to have met Cinderella before the ball and for him to look for her at the ball. But this was a departure from the original story where the Prince has to look for her after the ball, using the glass slipper.

So I wrote to my editor and said:
'I wanted to do a twist on the Cinderella story as I don't like the way in the original tale the implication is that Cinders needs to dress up and look beautiful to win her Prince, so much so that the Ugly sisters do not recognise her when she looks so lovely at the ball. This theme of being unrecognisable is continued in the rest of the tale, as the Prince needs to find the girl who fits the shoe, which implies that, even though he has danced with her, he would not recognise her in her rags. I don't really like this message for modern girls and I wanted to get away from this, so put the hunting for Cinders into the ball scene, instead of having it after the ball.'

He wrote back:
'Now that I see how important that moment is for you I wouldn’t suggest deleting it. I do think it’s a great moment, and it really drives home the point that he’s not interested in her for her fancy clothes. It sets up some lovely tension early on, too. The believability of the recognition, or lack of, part of the original story has always bothered me, so I feel happy to do away with it. And I do like your solution of the Where’s Wally scene that will give kids something to spot and also link back to the glass slipper element of the original.'

We ended up with this:

The Fairytale Hairdresser and Cinderella is out his month and I love the final version!

Now I just have to get on with plotting book 3, The Fairytale Hairdresser and Sleeping Beauty.


Linda Strachan said...

Great post, Abie. It's lovely to see the progression of the book from ideas to final images - and your notes etc. Thank you for sharing them in so much detail.

Jane Clarke said...

Thanks for highlighting the long process of crafting a picture book and the interaction between the writer, editor and illustrator that takes place before the book appears on the shelves. The Fairytale Hairdresser is such a brilliant idea - have fun with book 3!

Kerry Saadien-Raad said...

Thanks for this Abie. I loved seeing your process (and weirdly enough it's exactly how my picture books have been created). I've had a series idea knocking 'round in my mind for quite a while and so was keen to read your comments about the stories being able to fit in with previous and future plots.

Paeony Lewis said...

How interesting, Abie - it's great to see 'behind the scenes'. I notice you don't include the text with your thumbnails - just ideas of the general plots.
Plus your discussion with the editor is revealing. A long time ago I wrote an early chapter book called 'Cinderella's Wedding' and I envisaged the horrid sisters being horrid but pretty (that's why I didn't call them 'ugly sisters'). In the illustrations they were really ugly which made for fun visual images that children enjoy, but I've always felt a little uncomfortable with that.

Moira Butterfield said...

Everyone who is thinking of writing a picture book should read this. It's a great lesson in how much behind-the-scenes thought goes on.

Lynne Garner said...

Abie you are very brave sharing so much of the process. I don;t think I'd be brave enough to show my very first scribbles. I've never drawn out in rough the images for each page but do break down the story in a grid format. The images I carry in my head and can 'see' them as I read the words. Perhaps it is something I'll try next time.

Anonymous said...

Wow! A thousand thank-yous for sharing this process!

Juliet Clare Bell said...

Abie, this is a lovely post and I'll recommend it to people writing picture books (I'm doing a picture book evening class starting in just over a week's time). Like Paeony, I was interested to see you leaving the text out of the thumbnails. I guess they couldn't really be thumbnails with all the text but I try and get most of it in... next time, I'm going to try it your way. I think that would work well for me. (Have you tried using PowerPoint to do a really basic mockup of your book? Chitra Soundar recommends it. I'm planning to try that, too.) Great post. Thanks, Clare.

Unknown said...

Enlightening and much food for thought as I start my new series with Random House. Ha! I think we share the same lovely editor!