Thursday 28 August 2014

M-O-T-O-R-C-Y-C-L-E: Thoughts on SOUND Effects in Picture Books by Laura Sassi (Guest Blog)

What's the noise of a motorcycle?!
A few years ago, my husband and I were eating a lovely supper with our son, age three, when one of us, who shall remain nameless, passed some extremely audible gas. Before anyone had a chance to be mortified, my son squealed with delight: “M-O-T-O-R-C-Y-C-L-E!” I share this because it’s a perfect example of the magical effect sounds have on young readers. They’re so mesmerized by sounds that, even when sounds aren’t emitted naturally (as above), they create their own. Eavesdrop on any small child playing and quite often you’ll hear the putt-putt of imaginary cars, the whoosh of imaginary jets, or the tippa-tap of invisible fairy wands.

As writers for the very young, we can enhance our stories by tapping into this intrinsic love and infusing our texts with sound words. Technically called 'onomatopoeia', sound words can add richness to any writing, but especially to picture books. Indeed, one of my intentions in writing my debut picture book, GOODNIGHT, ARK was to infuse it with as many ear-pleasing sound words as possible. Thus the hail in my story goes pop pop and ping ping and the lightning flashes with a zip and a zing. The wind goes whoosh and the sheep baah as they dash into Noah’s bed.

Goodnight, Ark by Laura Sassi, illustrated by Jane Chapman,Zonderkidz (2014)
I’m so keen for sound words that when no perfect translation exists, I come up with my own. Here are some examples of ear-pleasing phrases I’ve concocted to capture special moments. See if you can guess what they are. Answers at end of post. NO PEEKING!:

A. Vroom! Pt! Ptta! Clack!

B. Flump-flump! Flurp-flurp!

C. Sloggle, sloggle…

Here's another idea for sounds. Are you a collector? You know, the sort who collects shells, or bottle caps, or little toy cars (as my son used to)? Yes? Then perhaps you’d like to join me in a challenge. This week, with ear-pleasing wordplay in mind, I plan to collect sounds as I go about my day and then translate them into creative sound words for possible use in a future picture book or poem. I’ll be collecting my words in my writing journal, but any repository will do.

Need a little inspiration to get you started? Here are two great examples of picture books in which the authors splendidly incorporate sound words, often made up, to add hilarity to the text.

Please Say Please!  (Penguin's Guide to Manners)
by Margery Cuyler, illus by Will  Hillenbrand
In PLEASE SAY PLEASE! (Scholastic, 2004), author Margery Cuyler does a splendid job of infusing fun sound words into her story about a little penguin who invites his friends to dinner. Each spread depicts a humorously horrendous manner, with the more polite, preferred alternative depicted on the page turn. This book was one of my daughter’s favourites when she was little and includes sound words such as hee-hee, splat, and wheee. My daughter’s absolute favourite bit, however, involves a hearty bur-r-r-r-r-r-r-p!

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!
by Candace Fleming, illus by G. Brian Karas
Candace Fleming’s MUNCHA! MUNCHA! MUNCHA! (Atheneum/Schwartz, 2002) about three persistent rabbits trying to get into Mr McGreeley’s garden is also rich in onomatopoeia. As the story builds, Mr McGreeley takes ever more drastic measures to keep the rabbits out. Each time the rabbits outwit him, Fleming humorously celebrates their triumph with a repeating, sound-pleasing, growing refrain that begins 'Tippy-tippy -tippy, Pat!' and ends with 'Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!' In between, she adds sound words that reflect their success in overcoming the latest rabbit-thwarting barrier created by Mr McGreeley. For example, after Mr McGreeley installs a wire fence around his garden to keep out the rabbits, Fleming adds a 'Spring-hurdle, Dash! Dash! Dash!' to the interior of the refrain. Later, when Mr McGreeley builds a moat, Fleming adds a 'Dive-paddle, Splash! Splash! Splash!'

Happy sound hunting and word building all!
Laura Sassi

Answers to Onomotopoeia Challenge:
A. The sound of our vacuum cleaner picking little toy bits.
B. The sound of a little wingless chick trying to fly.
C. The slurpy sound little paws make when trying to trudge through a muddy puddle.

Guest Blogger, Laura Sassi, has a passion for playing with words. Her picture book, GOODNIGHT, ARK, is a whimsical rhymer about bedtime on Noah’s Ark, published by Zonderkidz, a HarperCollins Company, and illustrated by Jane Chapman.

Twitter: @LauraSassiTales
Blog Tour:

Saturday 23 August 2014

Freelance Life - part two - The Downside - And how to handle it

For any aspiring Picture Book writers and Artists, it might help in your struggle to know that there are many wonderful positives involved in being a successful freelance writer and/or illustrator. The affirmation and adulation ;-)  (Well, not quite adulation but people saying nice things about what you do anyway). The satisfaction in knowing that you are making a half decent living doing the thing you are good at and love doing. The warm glow that comes with knowing that children all over the world have made your work part of their bedtime ritual, at least for a while. That kind of thing.

But if I may inject a word of caution, while enveloped in this happy haze it is easy to forget that the freelance writer's and illustrator's life has it's downside, and that coming up sharp against it can be a bit of shock.

You expect some tribulation on the way up as it were, but once a certain level of success has been achieved, you would be forgiven for feeling that once you have finally 'arrived', and the public like what you produce, this state of affairs is now set in stone and will continue ad nauseum. . . All you have to do is just keep it coming and all will be Hunky Dory.

Yeah right.
Bubble bursting time ;-)

Sticking with David Bowie for the sake of a bad joke, you may find things drifting away from Fame and starts heading towards Low. . .

Confidence is a fragile thing. Not so much self confidence, speaking personally anyway. I always assume, rightly or wrongly, that I will be able to come up with the goods, but confidence that what you produce will be what anybody actually wants is a fragile thing. I always say that an artist's best attitude, psychologically, towards the opinions of other's and towards possible rejection, is to assume that everybody else is wrong. "The fools don't understand my art!" kind of thing. This sounds arrogant and possibly delusional, but it keeps your self belief intact.

The alternative position - vis - "Oh God, I must be totally crap!" isn't useful in any way. It's not going to help you persevere with your endeavors. And you need to persevere. It's bloody hard. Strong self belief helps, justified or not.

The more alert amongst you might have detected a personal note in all this speculation about rejection and downsides. Well done ;-) yes, I am in the middle of what can be called 'A fallow period". Ideas rejected right left and centre, inspiration at an all time low. All that stuff. Not much fun.

For those who have never been there, you need to be aware that it is all too easy to get into a bit of a downward spiral. It's all connected you see, rejection hits confidence, saps morale and engenders negative thoughts like, "If nobody likes what I think up, why should I bother?", and "Why should I send this idea in? It'll only get rejected." This is never going to help the creative process or help shore up the reserves of positivity you will need to draw on. When there is more pressure on a new idea being 'right' because a lot hangs on it getting accepted, being relaxed and funny, the way you need to be to do what you do, requires superhuman acting skills. At the time when it is most important for you to produce good stuff, you can't. Things start to feel forced. The very thing that makes you stand apart from others in your field, becomes suspect in your mind. Ideas become safer, less 'you' because the 'you' in what you do is now under critical examination and you start to feel that it may be the thing that is causing your ideas to fail. The rug is being pulled from under your feet, but by slow degrees. And in strange way, it's you that's doing the pulling. . .

So what do you do about it? You carry on. You work through it. You analyze, and adapt if you feel it is needed. You draw on your inner strength and your faith in your own abilities, that's what.

You have to believe that it is just a passing phase, and that things will come together in due course. Though like most things, this is easier said than done.

Remember, you are in it for the long haul, and that time will take its toll. The low level anxiety and uncertainty of many years of freelancing can engender an unwelcome and unhelpful weariness sometimes. . .

But forewarned is forearmed. This kind of emotional attrition is part of the deal. If you want the good, (and the good can be very good) you have to accept the bad ;-)

But enough whingeing! Styles do go out of fashion. Editors want to create their own lists of artists and writers and not keep using the old guard ad nauseum. Of course they do and of course they should. It's the way the World works.

For my part, I comfort myself with the thought that emotional connection with your audience doesn't go out of fashion, neither does humour nor using animals as protagonists. I probably need to take some time out to draw breath and reconnect with the reason I wanted to write and draw in the first place, then return, refreshed and full of killer ideas. Ho yes.

The funny thing is, that despite the angst ridden wallowing detailed above, the second you get an idea accepted you snap out of it like it never happened. . .

Chin Up ;-)

Monday 18 August 2014

Do Hardback Children's Picture Books Lack Something? by Paeony Lewis

This blog is all about endpapers in hardback children's picture books (though you might not guess this from the first part of the blog!).

I wonder if others are like me. If  I'm going to pay almost twice the price for a hardback, compared to a paperback, then I want something more than a durable cover and sturdy spine. I think many hardback children's picture books lack what I call ‘gorgeousness’. At home, I have an eclectic collection of books, and the old illustrated books often include an elusive 'gorgeousness' that makes me want to murmur, ‘my precious’. Before I look at contemporary hardback editions of children's picture books, here are some of my old books (for all ages) that include 'gorgeous' extras:

Who can resist the spines of these Victorian fairy tales on my book shelf?
And the gilt/foil-blocked covers too

I’ve always adored tissue paper.
It’s as though I’m unveiling a secret.

Maps want to be copied. (and scrawled on - I was young)
18th-century marbled endpapers want to be caressed.

Simple, attractive endpapers also add to a book, such as these by H M Brock

With the growth of digital media (ebooks, picture book apps, and who knows what amazingness is around the corner), I feel 'gorgeousness' is something that publishers should capitalise on if they want us to continue buying hard copies of good books - especially hardback children's picture books. I want more!

I’d better say quickly that I’m not suggesting more book jackets. They’re an utter pain. Is it logical to put flimsy jackets on children's picture books? They just get damaged by small hands (and mouths and feet and the dog and hamster) because books are meant to be read. Mind you, an embossed cover hiding beneath a book jacket can be a lovely surprise. Even so, please forget the book jackets, or am I alone in this?

Why, oh why, are there book jackets on hardback children's picture books?

A lovely embossed/impressed cover hiding beneath the fragile jacket

So nowadays, assuming a brilliant story and captivating illustration, what adds precious gorgeousness to hardback children's picture books? Of course we want quality paper, good colour reproduction and a binding that won’t fall apart. On top of these essentials there are optional attributes such as spot varnish, embossmen, restrained foil blocking (never glitter!), or simple and stylish contemporary design. Whatever is used, I think one thing is definitely necessary: LOVELY ENDPAPERS!

NOT boring plain endpapers, or standard publisher publicity images, what I adore are illustrated endpapers. And for those not sure what I'm ranting about, endpapers (or endpages/endleaves) are double pages with one side stuck to the inside of the front or back of hardback books. They help hold the binding together and for a little more explanation I've just discovered this blog link that includes a diagram.

I’m really pleased that all my picture books have illustrated endpapers (thank you, publishers and illustrators). But there are still lovely picture books out there that only have plain endpapers, which add nothing to the experience of holding and reading a book. I won’t name publishers or books! Instead I’m going to guilt them by showing some examples of contemporary endpaper gorgeousness. I don't claim these are the best examples of endpapers, but they can all be found on my book shelves.

No More Biscuits by Paeony Lewis, illus Brita Granstrom, (The Chicken House). I've found children enjoy looking at these endpages and pointing out their favourite biscuits.Mine are the jam sandwiches!
No More Yawning by Paeony Lewis, Illus by Brita Granstrom, (The Chicken House 2008). The childlike images on the endpages encourage children to draw their own dreams.
Endpages don't have to be elaborate. These two are cute and simple and vary slightly between the front and back of I'll Always Love You by Paeony Lewis, illus by Penny Ives, (Little Tiger Press)

Some endpages are purely decorative and reflect the style of illustration in the book.
The Dawn Chorus by Suzanne Barton (Bloomsbury 2014)
The feather-like bark of trees at night appears throughout the book and  is echoed on the endpages of  Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illus by Patrick Benson (Walker Books)
This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (Walker Books 2012). The attractive seaweed endpapers may look like the illustrations inside  the book, but of course they're not precisely the same because that would be 'cheating'! 
Endpapers at the front and  back can reflect the beginning and end of the story.
As seen here in  Dinosaur Games by David Bedford, illus by Dankerleroux (Macmillan 2011)
The endpapers in Best Friends or Not? by Paeony Lewis, illus by Gaby Hansen (Piccadilly Press 2008) also reflect the story arc by showing the bears apart and then together at the end (friends again)

Whilst some endpapers contain tiny images that are fun to study. Here are lots of pepperpots from A Pipkin of Pepper by Helen Cooper (DoubleDay 2004)

And items from the antique store in Grandpa for Sale by Dotti Enderle and Vicki Sansum, illus by T Kyle Gentry (Flashlight 2007)

And here is a single lone image of a large city from Maude The Not-So-Noticeable  Shrimpton by Lauren Child, illus by Trisha Krauss (Puffin 2012)
These endpapers are an unusual delight. They contain the names of all the children who inspired  Quentin Blake to write and illustrate Un Bateau dans le Ciel (Rue du monde 2000) / Sailing Boat in the Sky (Red Fox 2003)

Here's a close up of the names. 

This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers (Harper Collins 2012) 
Have I persuaded some of you that illustrated endpapers add to a picture book? But what do illustrators think? I presume you’re not paid any extra to produce endpapers? If you’re given the opportunity to incorporate endpapers, do you relish it or sigh? Was the simplicity of the endpapers in that wonderful book This Moose Belongs to Me (Oliver Jeffers)  a conscious design decision or a ‘let’s do something quickly’ decision? Personally I think it was a design decision, and a good one. Endpapers don't have to be elaborate, though I feel they should reflect the book and not be blank unless this fits best with the rest of the design and isn't just a money-saving exercise.

You might mutter that because I write books I therefore notice things like endpapers, whilst the average book buyer or child doesn’t care. Maybe, though long ago, when I hadn’t thought about writing for children, I used to share the endpapers of Farmer Duck with my children. We would compare the seasons between the front and back images. They were an integral part of the book and reflected the social change on the farm. They added something extra.

Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell, illus by Helen Oxenbury (Walker Books)
With my children we'd study the differences between the seasons.

Sadly, the inside covers of paperback picture books are usually blank and white as they’re constructed differently. Even so, if a hardback version has endpapers then the paperback edition often includes additional pages that reproduce the endpapers, so they can still be enjoyed, albeit sometimes they're truncated.

Unfortunately, because of page number constraints in paperback editions, sometimes the original hardback endpapers don’t survive. This might be a story-length  issue, or it might be something I really loathe in paperbacks: advertisements. I think that replacing the original rear endpaper with an advertisement for other books looks cheap and nasty. Does anyone else agree? Or do I need to get real to the financial and marketing implications? Mind you, has anyone ever purchased a book because they’d seen it advertised in the back of a children’s picture book (now you’re all going to say ‘yes’!). I’ll admit I look at books listed in the back of novels, but not in the back of picture books.

I wonder what others think of my plea for gorgeousness. Do you rarely buy hardbacks? Would you buy more hardbacks if they weren’t just sturdy versions of paperbacks?  In particular, do illustrated endpapers add enough gorgeousness to encourage potential buyers? Does it matter? Is it just adults and not children who care? Am I merely a book snob and asking too much of publishers, illustrators and book buyers?

Paeony Lewis

Wednesday 13 August 2014

The House Of Illustration, by Pippa Goodhart

After twelve years of planning and fund-raising and touring exhibitions, the permanent House Of Illustration is now open in Granary Square just behind Kings Cross and St Pancras Stations, and it’s a joy. 

The House of Illustration’s job is to celebrate and preserve and encourage illustration of all kinds, but with Quentin Blake as its leading light, children’s picture books and children’s fiction are of course going to feature strongly.  That is especially true just now as the opening exhibition – ‘Inside Stories’ - is specifically showcasing Qunentin Blake’s archive of work, together with explanations as to how each illustrating project worked. 

It’s fascinating from a children’s author’s point of view.  We see Quentin Blake’s own picture book writing in draft form.  Here’s just one example, taken from The Dancing Frog –

“Tell me another story about our family,” said Harriet.

The name ‘Harriet’ has then been replaced with ‘Jo’.  Read that line out loud with the alternative names, and it’s clear that Jo is the one that sets the rhythm right for reading out loud.
We see the email that Michael Rosen sent to his publisher, proposing his very particular and personal Sad book:
'hi c
today I wrote this: I thought you might be interested?'
... and then, in the text of the email, there is more or less the whole final text just written down, apparently in one day, simple and almost casual, but utterly, devastatingly, true about how he feels about the death of his son.  It's a reminder that children respond, as anyone should, to honesty and truth.

On display are developing artwork for Boy In A Dress, Danny, Champion Of The World, The BFG, The Wild Washerwomen, Captain Najork And His Hired Sportsmen, and wonderful Clown, all looking that bit brighter and more textured than they do in print.  I love the early sketches and scribbly storyboards.  Wonderful to see how design of a spread can animate the story action as, for example, poor Clown is flung from a series of throwing-sequence images on the left page, swooping up towards a window in a tall building on the righthand side page.  That story sweeps forward with a momentum and drama that keeps us turning pages, and there’s not a word of text in sight.  Of course picture books are primarily about pictures, and there’s a message for us authors in one of the comments from Quentin Blake in which he wants to  ‘…celebrate the way a writer who knows how to write picture books can give the artist good opportunities.’  He's referring to John Yeoman.

This particular exhibition runs until November 2nd.  But see the House Of Illustration website for up to date information –

The House of Illustration is small, but its ambitions and potential are large.  Do go and enjoy it. 

Thursday 7 August 2014

Why you should talk to other children's authors

Moira Butterfield 

A few years ago, when I’d just turned freelance, I went to a meet-up for authors and would-be-authors. It was a general local event for anyone, and there I was quickly cornered by a strangely aggressive chap who demanded to know how much money I made. That experience put me off meeting other authors for a while, which is a shame because in hindsight I realize he wasn’t even an author. He was one of those types who fancied being one because he thought he could get rich quick.
Still, lacking confidence and coming from a distinctly untouchy-feelie office environment myself, I shrunk from mixing with other writers.
Then I was asked to a local coffee meeting. I don’t remember why I decided to go, but I think I was probably feeling somewhat isolated. There I met some friendly folk who told me about a nationwide online children’s author group I could join. Well...It was online, so maybe I could. I could stay quiet or I could just log off if it wasn’t for me.
Luckily I found a very supportive community. The authors there didn’t necessarily do the same kind of work as me but they were all writers and they led writer’s lives. I began to ask questions and get helpful answers, such as how to use Twitter or what to charge for a school visit.
Eventually I met up with some of the authors in the group. I was nervous. I do a lot of work-for-hire projects in between trying to write my own material. How would that go down? I don’t have an agent. Would that be perceived as odd?
No. It was OK. I found friendly supportive people prepared to share creative experiences. They’ve helped me to think about my own work and I’ve been encouraged to move forward and to write in different ways. Some of us even set up this blog. Amazing! Now I can talk to authors every day if I want to. 
I’ve also found myself being supportive, and that’s been a surprisingly big plus because it turns out that helping others leads to increased personal self-confidence and feelings of worth (a secret of life that I definitely did not learn in pressurized offices!).  
I’ve even found myself sending messages to people I’ve never met because they are going through difficult times, and though I don’t know the details (I don’t have to) I do know how very hard it is to work when life is tough, and I can say: “I understand. It's OK to take time out. Your creativity won't go away.”
The other day I met a new group of children's writers near my home, and beforehand I felt that nervousness again, unsure who they’d be or what they would think of someone who might be working on a picture book one day and a history book or a first reader on another day. It turned out they were friendly, fun and wanted to hear from me.
I still have those insecure feelings but I’ve found so much in common with other children’s authors. I’ve found lots of people who think rather like me.
So I’d recommend meeting up with other children’s authors near you, and they don’t all have to be picture book authors. They could be writing all sorts of things for all sorts of projects, but the point is they ARE writing. Shoot the breeze, enjoy a coffee and know that you’re not alone in your working life.  
Currently I'm working on both history books and picture books. I have books coming out about the Anglo-Saxons this week, aimed at schools. In the meantime I continue writing my own novel series for 8+, which I hope to finish by the 22nd Century. I definitely need a coffee! 

Sunday 3 August 2014

DON'T DO IT! - how NOT to write a picture book by Malachy Doyle

 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!