Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Turning Real Life into Picture Book by Malachy Doyle

I spent the months of September and October walking the Via de la Plata, an ancient pilgrimage route that runs all the way up the west of Spain, from Seville to Santiago de Compostela.  It was a tough 1000 kilometre (650 mile) walk and, as I’ve never done long-distance walking before, a major challenge.  I damaged my foot in the last hundred, and wasn’t at all sure I’d make it to the end, but through grit and determination, and with the encouragement and assistance of my kind brother Raphael, I got there.  (Though I’m still feeling the after-effects a month later in my leg.)

It was an amazing experience in all sorts of ways, but the most important was doing it with my brother.  We’re both rapidly approaching the big 60 (he’s closer than I am), and we haven’t spent anything like that much time together since we were about ten.  But we walked (and sang) together for fifty three days, and it was joyous.

We both kept a diary of our Camino and, being a picture book writer, I’m now reworking mine in the form I know and love best.

Because, as I’m always telling children when they ask where I get my ideas from, that’s what you do - you take a dose of real life - preferably something that really matters to you - you add a sprinkling of imagination, you stir it and stir it and bob’s your uncle (or in this case Big Bear’s your brother…)

Here's us in Seville on the very first morning.

And here’s an early draft of day one.

‘Wake up, Little Bear.
It’s time we were going!’

And at six o’clock,
while the world was still sleeping,
they opened the door and were off. 

‘It’s dark,’ whispered Little Bear,
as they left the lights of the town behind them.

Big Bear pointed to the full moon.
‘It’s all right,’ he said.  ‘She’ll keep us safe.’

They followed the yellow arrows, 
north, always northwards,
till they spotted an early-morning café.

Big Bear had hot chocolate.
Little Bear had lemonade fizz.

‘Eight hundred and thirty six, eight hundred and thirty seven…’ said Little Bear, counting as he went.  ‘How many more steps until we get there, Big Bear?’ 
‘Oh, about half a million,’ said Big Bear, with a shrug.

‘HALF A MILLION STEPS!’ Little Bear was shocked.
And it’ll be even more for me, he thought.  Mine are shorter than his.

But when you’re walking together down a long dirt road, you fall into step.
You can’t help but fall into step.


  1. Fab post and thanks for sharing your story. Wish my early drafts were as polished.

  2. Sounds like an amazing trip, Malachy. Looking forward to the picture book!

  3. Congratulations on completing your challenge, here's to brotherly love and endurance - and success for Big Bear and Little Bear.

  4. I love this and can't wait to read the rest.

    1. Aw, thanks Naomi. Lovely to see you here!

  5. Hi Malachy,
    What a wonderful experience and I'm very glad you're turning it into something we can all appreciate too! Most of my picture book stories are based in some way on real life, but none yet has come so clearly from an event like that. Really looking forward to seeing more... Welcome back (bad leg 'n all)!

  6. Congratulations on the incredible walk, Malachy. I love this and adore Little Bear having to take more steps and drinking lemonade fizz.
    I do include little bits of life in my stories, but not in the way you're doing and there's such tenderness too.

  7. Thanks, everyone. It's long for a picture book but, endurance being a key theme, the length seems to suit it. I just hope a friendly publisher feels the same.
    And yes, it's much closer to life than I normally write, too. But somehow I already had the characters, the story, the setting, the emotion. It's pretty much all true except we're not bears!

  8. But the best thing of all is that the two of you look so obviously like brothers, but also a little bit like bears! Whoever does the illustrations really needs to meet the two of you!