Thursday, 15 January 2015

Going back to the source by Abie Longstaff

When my children were little they were an endless source of ideas for picture books.

They had great words for things - we still say 'starvint' instead of 'starving' to this day after my daughter used to cry out "I'm starvint!" My son made up fantastic names for his soldiers like 'Massimao' (who was one of his top colonels).

They loved being read to

even at a very young age:

They also wrote their own stories like this fantastic one by my son aged 3: 

My Tigers

When my dog dies I will not be sad.

This is because that's when I will be getting my baby tigers.

I will get 100 baby tigers. I will get them from a tiger den.

The mummy tiger will say: "Go with that nice family!" or maybe the daddy tiger will say it. I don't know yet.

When they are first born the tigers will sleep in my sister's bed. Then when they are older they will sleep in my bed.

When they are big they will have to be good and not growl or bite people.

If they bite someone I will give them one warning and if they do it again…

…I will hoover them up.

They were very useful and many of my picture books came out of games we used to play together, like


But now my two are in secondary school. They still love picture books (especially the longer ones, like Ardizzone's wonderful 'Tim all Alone') but they are a little too old to be of useful inspiration.

Luckily, this Christmas I spent a week with my sister's three children, who are both incredibly cute and incredibly pesky; a perfect source of inspiration.

We read books (sometimes over and over. The little niece had a particular obsession with the Ahlbergs' Bye Bye Baby).

We made up a crazy story about a butterfly who hated the rain and needed an umbrella.

And a crocodile who snapped at Father Christmas while he was delivering presents.

And a playdough baby whose arm kept falling off.

There were rows about naptime, dummies, food, using the potty, whose toy belonged to whom.

Life with small children all came flooding back to me (particularly how bleeding hard it is - my sister does well to keep even halfway sane with those three around!)

There were plenty of cuddles during the day. And alcohol once they had gone to bed.

It was wonderful - and very inspiring!

Then my parents told me a fantastic story about their friends, who took out an old chimney breast and discovered behind it a small cloth bag full of ancient Spanish doubloons. Now that's a good plot :) 

Abie x

Look out for my new series, The Magic Potions Shop, coming this July for 5-7 year olds :)


Jonathan Emmett said...

Great post, Abie. I loved your son's tiger story!

Several of my stories were inspired by things my children said when they were little. I'm worried they might sue for plagiarism.

Juliet Clare Bell said...

I LOVE your son's tiger story. Really love it. When my daugher was five (or four), she wrote and illustrated a book I wish I'd written. I love the boldness of children's imaginations at that age -before they're told to add in adverbs. Thanks. You (and your son) have really inspired me this morning. Just what I needed. Clare.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Yes, that Just Go For It attitude to story is what we all need. Put adult rationality aside! Brilliant post, thanks.

Abie Longstaff said...

I love his story too! I wish I could get away with writing 'or maybe someone else will say it; I don't know yet' :)

Moira Butterfield said...

We should be able to write like that! It's funny and full of credibility. Inspiring. Thanks, Abie.

Jon Burgess Design said...

I want to illustrate that tiger story! ;-) Kids' minds work in such wonderful ways, they get straight to the point whereas us grown up children's book writers blunder around, desperate to recapture even a fiftieth of that pure inventive logic. Wonderful stuff ;-) . I'm trying to eradicate my boring grown up voice and logic from a picture book story right now, so thanks for the inspiration.

Jane Clarke said...

Coming late to this - but just wanted to say I love your son's tiger story, too!