Monday 27 August 2018

Continued Professional Development • Lynne Garner

As a teacher I'm expected to undertake CPD (Continued Professional Development) throughout the academic year. Thankfully, because some of my teaching involves leading creative writing sessions I'm able to double up with my CPD. That's to say I can improve my creative writing knowledge for both of my chosen careers (teacher and writer) at the same time. Recently I've had a 'splurge' of reading books about writing and I decided to share those I felt helped me. So, here they are.

Plots and Plotting, How to create stories that work by Diana Kimpton

This book is broken down into easy to follow sections and covers everything from brainstorming for ideas to creating interesting characters to inventing places/worlds and crafting an original plot. Useful for authors of all genres, including picture books.

How to Write a Children's Picture book by Darcy Pattison

This book covers everything from the basics of writing a picture book to exploring picture book genres to looking at structuring a picture book. Well worth a read for beginners to learn the craft and for those who've been published and need a bit of a refresh.

From the Heart of a Copy Editor (10 most common mistakes and how to fix them) by Sheila Glasbey

Today publishers are very, very choosy about the books they publish and your manuscript (for any genre) has to be as error free as possible. I know I have a few gaps in my knowledge which is why I picked this book up.

Whilst reading this book I had a few light bulb moments and I'm hopeful some of the lessons it taught me have stuck.  

A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young

This book was originally aimed at people working in the advertising industry. However, this little book (just 48 pages)  has helped me generate new ideas, not only for my fiction writing but also my non-fiction.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book (Volume I: Structure) by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock

This book explores how well known picture books are structured. It breaks them down and highlights the tools and techniques the authors has used to build an interesting and layered picture book story.  There are another two titles in the series these being:
  • How to Write a Children's Picture Book (Volume II: Words, Sentences, Scene, Story)
  • How to Write a Children's Picture Book (Volume III: Figures of Speech) 
And they are both on my reading list.

My next read will be Dear Agent - Write the Letter That Sells Your Book by Nicola Morgan. It was recommended by a writing friend after I'd moaned that I still haven't found myself an agent. As soon as she told me who had written it  I knew I had to add it to my list. I've had the pleasure in meeting Nicola on a few occasions and she really does know her stuff.

I'm hoping one or two or the books I've suggested may help you. If you've read a book that you found useful please share and I'll add it to my reading list.



Just a little plug for my latest book. It's the second in my Moon Meadow Farm series and features the sly, cunning and fascinating Fox of Moon Meadow Farm (ebook just 99p). With fingers crossed the paperback will be available late September or early October 2018.

Ten short stories featuring Fox

Monday 20 August 2018

Tips for titles: What's in a name? by Lucy Rowland

This year, I was asked to produce 4 short pieces about writing picture books for the SCBWI-BI ‘Words and Pictures’ online magazine.  I chose to write about writing in rhyme, editing rhyme, picture book endings and also picture book titles.

I decided to share and expand some of my thoughts on picture book titles in this post.  This is partly because, at the moment, I’m really struggling to come up with the right title for a particular story!... but also because titles are so important.

Strong titles can hook us in and make us want to pick up a book. So how do you know when you’ve found the right one?  Here are some points I consider when looking for the perfect picture book title.  It’s certainly not easy though and I’d love to hear your pointers too!

Be short and snappy! Tara Lazar, Children’s Book Author, writes that ‘Picture books tend to sell on concept. That concept must be communicated succinctly in order to capture a young child’s (and a parent’s) imagination.  If your picture book manuscript has an overly long title, it may suggest your concept is either too vague or too complicated for the format. You want to nail down your concept and make it snappy!’
Lots of picture book titles are quite short and to the point. Just having a look through my bookcase today, I notice that many of them are just 2-3 words long. For example:
'Blown away' by Rob Biddulph

'Oi Frog!' by Kes Gray and Jim Field
'Daddy's Sandwich' by Pip Jones and Laura Hughes
'Grandad's Island' by Benji Davies
'Mr Wolf’s pancakes' by Jan Fearnley
'Lost and Found' by Oliver Jeffers
'Dinosaurs don’t draw!' by Elli Woollard and Steven Lenton.

Though, of course, as Tara Lazar mentions, sometimes long picture book titles stand out and can work really well, particularly if they're used to stress a key idea such as in
'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day' by Judith Viorst and Roy Cruz. 

Be intriguing! I love a title that makes me want to know more.  ‘There is No Dragon in this Story’ (by Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright) is a title that does just that.  The cover clearly shows a dragon and yet we’re told there are no dragons in this story! So what exactly is going on here?!  
And what about the unusual titles, ‘Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs’? by Judi and Ron Barrett or 'Don't let the pigeon drive the bus?' by Mo Willems.  Those are titles that definitely make me want to read on.

Be aware of co-edition sales This is where I tend to fall down! I often come up with stories because I like experimenting with words.  Many of my picture book titles are rhyming- e.g. ‘Gecko’s Echo’(illustrated by Natasha Rimmington) and others are plays on words like ‘Little Red Reading Hood’ (illustrated by Ben Mantle).  But how do these titles work for co-editions where the words may not rhyme in the new language? It can be done (Little Red Reading Hood is now published in French as ‘Little Red Riding Hood who loves to read’) but it’s certainly something to consider.

I personally really enjoy rhyming titles. In fact, ‘Where Bear’ by Sophy Henn, ‘Lucie Goose’ by Danny Baker and Pippa Cunick and ‘Follow the Track all the Way Back’ by Timothy Knapman and Ben Mantle are just a few of the rhyming titles that I currently have on my shelf.

Be open to changing your title.
My original text ‘Ned said No’ is now called ‘The Knight who said No’ (illustrated by Kate Hindley).  ‘Stoppit Floppit’ is now titled ‘Catch that Egg’ (illustrated by Anna Chernyshova).  These changes were made after discussions with my publishers who consider things such as search engine optimisation.  Parents often buy books for a particular time of year- Christmas, Mother’s Day, Halloween etc or because their children are going through a particularly intense ‘dinosaur phase’.  If a parent is searching for a picture book about ‘knights’, ‘dinosaurs’ or ‘Easter’- you want them to be able to find yours.
Also worth considering is whether or not to use character’s names.
Sometimes the character’s names don’t give us a lot to go on. They don’t give us a really clear idea of what that book is about.  I’ve recently changed a title where I was using a character’s name ‘Wanda’ to one where I use ‘The Little Witch’.  Again, it can be useful to think about the words that someone might search for if they are looking for a book about a particular topic.  Parents often look for picture books in order to support children with fears/phobias or to help them to learn about and navigate new experiences.  
Is your book about worry/fear of the dark/first day of school/ a trip to the dentist? If so, is this communicated really clearly by your title?
Having said that, looking again at my lovely picture book shelf, using character names certainly didn’t harm Sophy Henn with her gorgeous book ‘Edie’ or Claire Freedman and Kate Hindley with their book ‘Oliver and Patch’! 
Oooh this is so tricky!!  

I’d love to hear some of your top tips for titles.  Do you have any particular picture book titles that stand out to you?

Friday 10 August 2018

#OnlyOneOfMe: Making a picture book in just a few weeks • Michelle Robinson

We have a guest post this week from former Picture Book Den team member Michelle Robinson about Only One of Me, a very special picture book Michelle has written with Lisa Wells. You can find out more about the project and read the book's text on Michelle's blog.

I swear: no deadline will ever stress me out again.

Since announcing our intention to produce #OnlyOneOfMe on July 31st, it's been go, go, go. With the help of my amazing agent, James Catchpole I've been spearheading a campaign to make a top quality heirloom picture book for charity.

Thankfully there isn't only one of me. The team is small but tight knit, and everyone is pulling together to make it happen. Illustrators Catalina Echeverri and Tim Budgen are currently burning the midnight oil, more than earning the right to be referred to as, "The hardest working people in the business".

Before the nitty gritty: I'm auctioning the rare opportunity to have an in-depth picture book manuscript critique with me, with all proceeds going to the fund. You can bid here!

Let me tell you a little about the book: Written from the perspective of a terminally ill parent, Only One Of Me is an expression of undying love for their children. What makes it so unique is that it was written by someone in that terrible situation.

Lisa and baby Saffia
Lisa Wells was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel and liver cancer at the end of 2017. Her doctors told her she has between just two and twelve months to live. Lisa and her husband Dan have two lovely little girls, Ava-Lily, 5 and Saffia, 9 months. I don't need to say anything more about it, really. It's too sad to think about. But for Lisa and Dan there's no getting away from it.

How do you go about preparing yourself to leave everyone you hold dear behind? 

I can only begin to imagine, and I'm so glad that for me it's just hypothetical. I wish I had a magic wand and could change the future for Lisa. The only wand I have is my pen - so I've given it a wave with Lisa's help.

Our story is designed to help dying parents express their feelings, giving them a lasting and tangible token of comfort to leave behind. Thanks to Lisa's courage, energy and loving nature - and thanks to all the people who are donating, spreading the word and supporting the Only One Of Me team throughout this crazy busy time -  her voice will bring comfort not just to her own family but countless others like them.

So how do you create a picture book in just a few weeks? You fly by the seat of your pants and call in favours from as many generous experts as you can!

Tim's initial character sketches for dad
We were inundated with hundreds of submissions from illustrators. I reckon we had to make our decision faster than any editor ever in the history of publishing! We chose to go with both Tim and Catalina. This way we could produce two different books - one for mums, one for dads - with the freedom to draw human characters instead of gender neutral animals. It also meant no single artist was going to bear the burden of the project alone. The two are forming a great partnership behind the scenes, supporting one another in every decision - there are so many to make, and we have to make them at break neck speed!

What should the characters look like? How can we be sure to make the characters diverse and inclusive? How do we convey the depth of sorrow involved while ultimately providing comfort? What colour scheme? What type style? Spreads? Single pages? The list is endless! Thankfully Catalina and Tim have plenty of support.

The counsellors at WHY We Hear You, our official charity partner, have been helping guide us, as have our publisher, Graffeg and my own super agent, James Catchpole. It's faster, easier and cheaper to get Tim and Catalina together in London (Graffeg are based in Cardiff Bay) for a brainstorming session, so my friends at Walker Books have offered to host, feed and advise them on Tuesday 14th August. In short, Tim and Catalina have a lot of support - but even so, they basically have to create a spread a day to meet our August 30th deadline.

We are so close to full funding - and we print on September 21st!

Huge thanks to Rob Hayward and the team at CPI Antony Rowe, Melksham, and are aiming to hold a fundraising launch party on the same day. To say timings are tight is an understatement! If the books aren't ready in time, we'll be celebrating thin air! We simply can't afford to mess this up.

But we won't. The whole team is dedicated, committed and fired up. We are determined that Lisa will get to enjoy the thrill and satisfaction of seeing her book in print before she dies.


Thank you to everybody who has read the story, spread the news, donated and sent words of encouragement! It means so much. We've had donations ranging from £2 to £250 and every single one is equally appreciated. The more we raise, the more books we can ultimately print - our bookbinders are very generously doing the first run free of charge, which is phenomenal, but we predict a bit of a frenzy in sales!

I should say that the book will be available to everyone, but has been designed as a resource for dying parents. Do keep a copy on your shelf, but be careful sharing it with young children if you're a parent in fine fettle! We wouldn't want to cause any undue anxiety! You will have the option to buy copies and donate them directly to charity, either under your own steam or via WHY We Hear You, who will help see that the books get to where they're most needed.

So wish us luck! Luxuriate in your deadlines! And above all, live, laugh and love. 

Michelle x

Michelle Robinson is the bestselling author of picture books such as A Beginner's Guide to Bear Spotting and Goodnight Spaceman

Monday 6 August 2018

Are you famous? by Jane Clarke

Over the last few weeks, I’ve done assorted school and library events for the under 8 year olds, and, when it’s time to chat, I've been asked “are you famous?” They’re puzzled because I’m standing in front of them, being introduced as a special visitor  - yet they haven’t seen my face on TV - and won’t have heard of my name, except in the context of that event.

Sky Private Eye (illustrated by Loretta Schauer) - Jane at the event at Barnes Lit Fest

If I ask the children if they know any picture book writers or illustrators, the name they most often come up with is Julia Donaldson. They know her as the author of the Gruffalo books, but they often struggle to name Axel Scheffler as the illustrator - or to add any more names to the list. The majority of picture book writers and illustrators are invisible to them.
But when I ask the same children what picture books they love, their eyes light up. They know the title and the characters and can’t wait to tell me all about the story. They remember who read their favourite book to them, how it made them feel - and how they requested it to be read again, and again, and again. The book is etched into their hearts and has become part of their childhoods.

Most adults I’ve asked can also recollect in detail the stories the picture books they loved as a child, and see the illustrations in their mind’s eye  - even if they can’t remember the name of the author and illustrator. Often, as adults, they have sought out the book they loved as a child so they can read it to their children.

 I had to track down Downy Duckling (Ladybird Books, fist published 1942!) to share with my sons. I had no idea who wrote and illustrated it -the names of AJ MacGregor and W Perring are not on the cover.

So when I’m asked “are you famous?” I explain that not many people know my name or what I look like, but they might know and love some of the stories I’ve created - and that sort of fame makes me very happy.

 In the case of the picture books I’ve written, Gilbert the Great is probably the best known, thanks to Charles Fuge’s wonderful illustrations, and this summer, in the USA, there was even a Gilbert plush in Kohl’s, helping to raise money for Kohl’s Cares charities. 

Do you have a favourite picture book you remember as a child, but didn’t find out the names of the author and/or illustrator until you were much older?

 Jane also often gets asked “are you rich?” She answered that question in this post
Nothing has changed, except she’s now even richer in granddaughers (4)!