Monday, 16 September 2019

Getting Side Tracked • Lynne Garner

A week or so ago I came across a video taken by a guy who regularly sets up a trail camera in woods near to where he lives. As I watched I knew I wanted to use it as a basis for a new picture book story. As I watched I took notes but knew I also needed to do a little research. 

A gift a few years ago - fab little book
As my new story will feature animals I know little about, they were my starting point. Although my animals will talk, I believe their lives should bear some resemblance to the real ones. Unfortunately, the issue is when I  research I get side tracked. As per usual I found a couple of facts I needed plus a few I didn’t. For example, did you know a baby racoon is called a kit or a cub? Also, female racoon with her young is called a nursery – I do like collective nouns.

Of course, this side tracked me and I had to find out if nursery was used as a collective noun for other animals. After a while I discovered a nursery is also used for a group of Coati. Happy with this I forced myself back on track and continued to research the topic in hand. 

Fact: a hedge is just bushes, whilst a
hedgerow is a mix of bushes and trees.
Once I’d researched the animals, I needed to research the types of trees my characters would encounter. This was when I stumbled on something very dear to my heart, supporting our environment. Somehow and I have no idea how I moved from trees of the US to the UK. This is when I discovered there are two places you can obtain free trees and hedging kits. Coincidentally I'm 'into' hedges and hedgerows at the moment due the book I’m reading A Natural History of the Hedgerow. 

The first organisation giving away free tree and hedging packs is The Woodlands Trust (click here for more information).  Schools and community groups can apply for their free packs. 
So, if you’re connected to either why not let them know about this great initiative and encourage them to apply.

Also, the government have £10 million put aside to fund the planting of 130,000 trees as part of their Urban Tree Challenge Fund. They are now accepting applications of interest from individuals (like minded neighbours who want to improve their street or local park), local authorities, charities and NGOs for trees to be planted 2020/2021. The scheme is being administered by the Forestry Commission (click here for more information).

Even after allowing myself to be side tracked I managed to find the information I needed. And I’m pleased to say my latest picture book story is in its third draft. Just a little more tweaking and my next task will be to research a suitable publisher. With fingers crossed I’ll get less side tracked, but I doubt it.   

Blatant plug time

Love a short story? 

Then check out my short story collections - available in paperback and ebooks versions (most ebooks are available at the low price of 99p/99¢ each):

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm (10 stories)

Fox of Moon Meadow Farm (10 stories)

Ten Tales of Coyote  (10 stories)

Anansi The Trickster Spider (ebook £1.49/$1.49 - 16 stories) 

Monday, 9 September 2019

Making It Personal: Harvesting Picture Books From Real Experiences by Clare Helen Welsh

We all know that finding an original picture book idea is tough. Extremely tough. But one way of being unique, is to make your writing personal. There is only one you, after all!

Twenty authors could all write stories about bears, but what would make yours different from everyone else’s is what you bring; your experience, your style, what you notice, know and believe to be important about bears. No-one can replicate you and that’s what will help your text stand out to publishers.

So how do we cultivate our ‘You-ness’ ?  - a term I first heard author, Catherine Johnson, use at the SCBWIBI Conference in Winchester - and how do we turn it into picture book gold?

Try writing down all the experiences, people, memories, interactions that are important to you. Choose one and consider:
-                     Is it interesting to others?
-                     Is it helpful to others?
-                     Is it (or can it be) told from a child’s perspective?

This last point is particularly important. You will need to craft your emotion into something accessible for the age group you are writing for. Remember that just because something resonates with us as adults, doesn’t necessarily mean it will touch or entertain a child in the same way. Emotion is hugely important in picture books, but your text still needs excitement and tension to make children want to come back to it again and again.

It’s perhaps helpful to expand your mindset when working in this way. Your final text might not actually be the whole of the thing you experienced. Once you have taken the nub of the idea/memory/emotion and sculpted it into something children will enjoy, it might only be a snippet of your original experience; a phrase, a character or an idea that you can use as a springboard for something else.

As an example, my most recent picture book, The Tide (illustrated by Ashling Lindsey and published by Little Tiger), started life as a phrase that my children kept repeating whilst on a day trip to the beach; ‘The tide is coming in! The tide is coming in!’ I wrote whilst they played. It was very special to sit back and watch them. It was also the first time they learned about tides.

On the beach at Perran Sands, Cornwall (April 2015)

Ronnie Spry, who lived with dementia, with two of her grandchildren.

Six months later, this memory had very much stayed with me, and so I used it as inspiration for a book about dementia, told from a child’s point of view. There were already some very good books for children on the subject. I know because my children’s Grandma lived with dementia towards the end of her life. Their Grandma wasn’t with us on our beach trip. No-one even mentioned or talked about dementia on that day. In fact, the final text doesn’t bear much resemblance to our trip at all. But the emotion is there. And a few little details that make the text feel fully-rounded; my children did play in the rock pools. They did build forts and castles and they did laugh in and shower in the salty spray. Their song, ‘The tide is coming in! The tide is coming in!’ also features, as a refrain in the book. Using the tide as a metaphor for memories that come and go, was unique and original to me. It was my way in to a subject written about many times before.

                                              (c) Ashling Lindsay (2019)

                                                (c) Ashling Lindsay (2019)

Perhaps you also like working this way? It would be great to find out if you do.
If not, perhaps give it a try …and let us know if you find picture book gold!

Clare is a children's writer and primary school teacher from Devon. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts - sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical. Her first book was published in 2015, and she currently has books in development with Little Tiger Press, Quarto, Andersen, Nosy Crow and MacMillan. You can find out more about her at her website or on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh .

Monday, 2 September 2019

Digging through it by Jane Clarke

On Saturday, I helped excavate a small test pit with my local archaeology group. It occurred to me that editing the first draft of a picture book text is a bit like being on a dig. 
  1. At the start, it's hard to see what's there. You begin to strip away at it.

2.  Layers are essential, but some layers just need removing, like this corrugated iron sheet. 

If something’s blocking the flow of your text, cut it out - even if it is easier to leave it in there and walk away!

3.You don’t want to miss anything, so sieve through it carefully. 

4. You are likely to discover many broken things. 

Can anything be pieced together?  Discard a lot. Keep some. Either way, preserve a record. You might want to look at things again sometime.
5.  Remember it all started with the bedrock. Which in the case of our dig was waterlogged clay, but in a picture book is the theme of your text. Don’t lose sight of it.
6. It's hard work, but it's fun, especially if your join in with others who share the madness.

If you're looking for like-minded and helpful people, check out the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Jane was once an archaeologist, but is now a full time writer. Her latest picture book is Leap Frog, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup. For those who are interested, the test pit revealed a lot of rubbish - but also 3 shards of fifteenth century earthenware, 2 of late Anglo- Saxon pottery and a worked flint (probably Mesolithic). There was no sign of any structure. The dig was carefully recorded on a University of Leicester data base.