Monday 27 January 2020

Imposter Syndrome - Gareth P Jones

This is my first blog for Picture Book Den. I was asked to get involved by the illustrator of my two picture books, Garry Parsons. Having accepted, I instantly felt a pang of anxiety. Even though I have had 40 children’s books published so far, only two of them are picture books.

I am very proud of both of these books and I’m grateful to have books to read, talk about and sell when I visit schools. I love Garry’s illustrations and I have discovered lots of fun things to do around them in classes. Visiting Reception and Year One is always fun and having a good excuse to talk about pirates and dinosaurs is perfect. Although, I have discovered that it is hard to distinguish a dinosaur ROOOOAR from a pirate AARRRR!

But I don’t feel like a natural born picture book writer. I have written more than just two. Lots in fact. If you were to scan through the Picture Book Ideas folder on my computer you would find a lot of unfinished, barely started, and “written but rejected” ideas.

Of course, I am not alone in suffering from Imposter Syndrome. A cursory Internet search on the subject suggests that many of us do, will or have suffered from Imposter Syndrome at some point. I found lots of advice about how to get over it, which made me realise that in my case, I don’t really mind feeling like an imposter. Before we get to the reason why I’m OK with it, I should clarify why I do feel this way.

Firstly, I don’t really consider myself a visual writer. I am not an illustrator and I don’t especially see images when I write. Some writers see images, which they describe with words. Others build words out of sentences. With me, I think it’s that I mostly hear voices, which I write down.

As I always say in schools, the most important aspect of a picture book is the pictures. (The clue is in the name.)

Whenever I write a picture book, I try my hardest to imagine how I might be able to use the pictures to move the story forward but, in truth, I am very much in the hands of the editor, designer and illustrator. In fact, there are aspects of both of my published picture books, that I only fully understood once the pictures had been added. In The Dinosaurs are Having a Party, I had no idea why the T-Rex started chasing the main character until I saw Garry’s rough artwork and there is a whole subplot with half a missing treasure map in Are You the Pirate Captain? that I had alluded to but not fully realised in my text.

I also feel as clueless about whether anyone else will like each text enough to publish them. I never have any idea if my latest effort will actually get picked up. When I do manage to finish a book, I usually email it to my agent and her assistant who then let me know if they think it’s worth sending to publishers.

Sometimes they have comments. On other occasions they send them straight on as they are. I welcome comments but I do find that my picture books are especially delicate things. One light tap of an alteration and the rest of the text cracks and crumbles and I end up writing an entirely different story.

My next reason for feeling like an imposter is both true and hard to admit.  But here goes… (deep breath)

A lot of the time I don’t enjoy writing pictures books. OK, so sometimes I do. And I really love picture books themselves. I also love having picture books and I am over the moon whenever I get a new contract but usually (especially if it’s rhyming) I find the process of writing the things absolutely soul-crushing. I remember Tracey Corderoy (who has written a lot of successful and excellent picture books) telling me she likes rhyming texts because it’s like solving a puzzle. I think my problem is that I was never really one for puzzles. I don’t care much for crosswords or sudokus or… even worse, Rubik’s cubes. I’m happy writing songs and raps because you can be flexible and you can rely on your own delivery but with the picture books the text has to stand on its own.

 Another reason for disliking the process is that with a longer book, a bad day’s writing might result in a few badly written pages – maybe a rubbish chapter – but at least I know I’ll be able improve this. After a bad day writing a picture book, quite often my word count has gone down! Or I’ve ended up with half a sentence that, let’s face it, could be better.

Now, before you start thinking “this blog is a bit down beat” it is worth mentioning that Garry asked me because I’d told him that I have two picture books coming out next year (and a sequel to one of them the following year) all with Egmont.

Next year’s books came about as a result of much easier and more pleasant writing experiences. Perhaps this is because they both came about as the conversations of with my daughter. It may have helped that they are not rhyming texts. The first, The Lion on the Bus came about when a rendition of The Wheels on the Bus got silly. I sent it to my agent’s assistant (my agent was on maternity leave at the time). She had various concerns (too much going on visually, too much peril, not enough countries know the song… and so on). All very sensible things to bring up but, I responded saying I didn’t have anything else so please would she submit it anyway.

Thankfully she did. My new publisher’s enthusiasm for these books has been wonderful and I am very excited about the next stages in the process, (which I will probably blog about later this year).

And yet, I still feel like an imposter and, as I said at the beginning, I don’t actually mind feeling like that. I’m not looking for reassurance - at least not in this aspect of my career. I like the fact that I go into each picture book with the same wide-eyed innocence of the intended audience.

Lots of us do feel like imposters a lot of the time – especially when you are making your way in the world as a writer. And certainly, if you can find ways to tell yourself that you are the real thing, then that’s great. Do that. But maybe it’s also OK sometimes to admit that you are out of your comfort zone. Feeling like an imposter, for me, keeps me on my toes and ensures I work all the harder to write picture book texts that work.

Gareth P Jones is the author of 40 books for children of all ages. Both his picture books are published by Andersen and illustrated by Garry Parsons. His next picture books will be published by Egmont in 2021. His next non picture book to be published is both his 41st and his 1st, as Dragon Detective: Catnapped is a republished version of his first ever book The Dragon Detective: The Case of the Missing Cats. The first in the series of four books is published by Stripes, February 2020. You can find out more on Gareth's website, listen to the Dragon Detective theme tune here or follow him on Twitter @jonesgarethp.   

Monday 20 January 2020


Since I began writing for children, I’ve heard several myths about titles.

The first was just prior to my debut book being published. I’d phoned a book shop to enquire about events and on hearing the name of the story alone, the seller proceeded to tell me that my book would never sell. Apparently, the title would put parents off buying it, and children off reading it, too!


The seller had, and still has, a very valid point.  Your writing needs to be carefully matched to the age of your target readership. However, there is also an argument for using stories to explore and extend a child’s language and understanding of concepts. Indeed, it could even be the selling point. Baby 101’s series of books, including ‘Architecture for Babies’ and ‘Economics for Babies’ are good examples. 

I'm actually glad I stuck with my title. The picture book in question, ‘Aerodynamics of Biscuits,’ (illustrated by Sophia Touliatou) has been reprinted twice, turned into a theatre show and was runner up in the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. There’s also a brand new edition coming in 2020! My advice would always be to make sure your writing is appropriate for your age of reader, but if there’s an opportunity for more complex vocabulary to be embedded and explored, don’t be put off including it. 

I thought it might be interesting to unpick some further myths about titles.


It’s generally advised that your titles should be short, snappy and succinct. Shorter titles leave more room on the cover for bigger font. Also, since picture books tend to sell on concept, a title can act as a mini pitch, communicating the concept to readers and buyers. 

However, long titles can be memorable and distinctive. I love the title of Emma Perry’s debut picture book, illustrated by Sharon Davey. It’s a longer one, coming in at 8 words, but it communicates all the voice, character and concept I need to want to read it! (Unfortunately, I’ve got to wait until it publishes later in the year). Here’s another example that’s a whopping 10 words long!

Of course, if your picture book manuscript has an overly long title, it could suggest that story is too vague or too complicated. Interestingly in Time’s list of 100 best-selling children’s books, the average length of the picture book titles was 3-4 words long.


Character names can be short, but the worry is that they give very little information about story. The risk is that you fail to hook your readers. If my story with Olivier Tallec, How Rude! had been named after the characters, Dot and Duck, you could argue it wouldn’t have been as strong a title. Titles are a promise to the reader; of humour, adventure or something else. So don’t miss out on the opportunity to sell your story. 
However, I do think it is possible to name books after characters, especially if the names give us a lot to go on. Take something like the Little Miss and Mr Men stories, for example. Similarly, titles like Supertato work because the characters have great names that are also the concept! If your character's name is the USP, why not use it?


It can be tricky to translate puns, rhymes and phrases from English into other languages, which could be an argument to avoid them in titles. However, that’s not to say it can’t be done. 

Perhaps the title would work in enough English-speaking territories to make the project financially viable anyway? Or maybe the publisher would change the title to something else when any co-editions are translated?

Lucy Rowland talks more about this in her post for Picture Book Den, ‘What’s in a Title?’ Her story with Ben Mantle, ‘Little Red Reading Hood,’ relies on word play, but yet here it is translated into French!

I had to seek some advice on this one! But I guess the bottom line is that books with the same titles do exist. However, you’d probably want to be as original as possible. If you did use a title that had already been published, you’d certainly want the subject of the texts to be suitably different to avoid confusion. You wouldn’t want to duplicate a title if it had been published recently, either.
It would also be important to check that the title wasn’t under copyright. Whilst I believe that, generally speaking, it isn’t possible to copyright a title since it is considered ‘a short slogan,’ some concepts and characters are copyrighted. You wouldn’t be able to include Rudolph, for example, without seeking the relevant permissions. More about this here.

I hope these thoughts are useful when naming your texts! Don’t underestimate the impact of a great title. It can be the difference between someone picking up your book …and not. I’ve heard that picture books can and have sold on titles alone, if they’re that good. Contrary to the popular idiom ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ – we do! The title will be one of your most important selling points, so spend time getting it right.

Now it’s your turn!

Which are your favourite picture book titles and why?

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. She also writes for the early readers for Collins Big Cat and Maverick. @ClareHelenWelsh

Monday 13 January 2020

Ten Top Picture Book Writing Tips • Lynne Garner

I don't list the colours in the jumper,
the illustration shows us. 
I look back at my career and ask myself "how did I manage to get published?" I knew nothing about plot construction, creating characters children could relate to, how many pages a picture books contains etc. Yet I managed to become a published author. But if I knew then what I know now my journey would have been a shorter one. So, to reduce the length of your journey here are my top ten tips for writing a story an editor will hopefully want to publish.
Read and learn from picture books. Look at how the story has been constructed, what types of words have been used, what words have been omitted thus allowing the illustrations to also tell the story. 

A picture book writer can learn a lot from studying poetry. I’m not suggesting write an entire book in rhyme but there are elements of poetry you can use to improve your story for example the rhythm of the words you choose use.  
I used long funny words and also repeated
phrases to create a rhythm.
Explore the use of words. Don’t be afraid to make up them up or use words that are long. For example, one of my nephews favourite picture books featured a T-rex. He loved it when it came to his turn to read the word and always shouted REX at the top of his voice, which was then followed by giggling.      

Listen to how children speak, what they talk about, the worries them etc. All of this can be used to fuel your work and ensure you’re writing stories children will enjoy and can relate to.

Break down your story into spreads and think of them as scenes in a play. Ask yourself is there something new happening on every page? Have you given the illustrator enough to work with? Does the new scene move the story forward? If the answer to any of these is no then you need to have a rethink.

Teasel and Brambles tell us how they feel
in their own words and by their actions.
Let your characters tell the story in their own words. Let them show the reader what they are feeling and thinking. 

Everyone loves to laugh, so if appropriate include a little humour. Either use words or provide the illustrator with notes, so the humour can be shown in the illustrations. 

Have a go at using the magic number three in your story. Have you ever read The Gruffalo? When the mouse is explaining what the Gruffalo looks like it’s always in threes. Also, there are three animals chasing the mouse. The snake, the fox and the owl. This isn’t new think about the three bears, the three pigs, the three billy goats. 

As with any story think start, middle and end. If you've never heard of him then watch this video featuring Kurt Vonnegut about the shape of stories. 

Lastly don't be afraid to break the rules. It worked for Pippa Goodhart in her 'You Choose' series of books. These books don't have a story but allow the child to choose from the bounty of options offered by the images in the book created by Nick Sharratt. 

I hope these tips help and good luck with your writing and if you have any other tips please share below or tweet us @picturebookden 

Monday 6 January 2020

New Year Resolutions by Chitra Soundar

It's 2020, the start of a new decade. For the first post of the year, I wanted to start with celebrating the New Year.

A new decade and a new year not only brings on a new calendar, a new blank diary to write in but also new year resolutions. We all make them; we all break them. Some we forget, some we abandon and perhaps the hope is one of them will stick.

           In that context of making new resolutions, I’ve been looking at picture books that help children form good habits and break bad ones. Gone are the days when children’s books were didactic and full of rules and crazy consequences full of warnings. As this book of Victorian verse will attest to, children were told what not to do and the dire consequences of breaking rules.

Modern picture books especially those published in the last decade we have just bid goodbye to, has creative approaches to teaching children form good habits. A word of caution for all writers, I learnt early on in my writing career - keep it fun and be conscious of the creeping adult voice full of judgement.

Here are some examples of how to do that. 

In this book, Mo Willems highlights the universal angst of all parents and children – bedtime. Children want to have parties, read more stories, dance their night away while parents are tired and frustrated.
            How about eating habits? Some children won’t eat squishy tomatoes and others wouldn’t eat peas. Some won’t eat fruits and some wouldn’t touch an egg for any reason. Charlie has a wonderful idea to make Lola eat her tomato when she cries I will never not ever eat a tomato.

The third most important thing to a child - being active. Some children are readers, some are jumpers and some are holler-yollers. Often their activity levels are exact opposites to their parents. When parents want to rest, children want to play and vice versa. Isn't that a fantastic writing opportunity - in-built conflict and lot of relatable situations. 

However, if you wanted to introduce children to start off with a wonderful habit of doing yoga, here is a book that shows how to learn simple postures. Perhaps it’s a parent and child habit-forming book. Was yoga in your resolution for this year? I'm thinking of adding yoga to mine.

The trouble with telling children what to do is we don’t always follow our own rules. So we preach without practicing – go to bed early, no TV, eat your veg or don’t pick your nose. Children are observant. They know when parents break rules and that make children push that envelope of rebellion a bit more. Here is Daisy telling her mum, why giving advice is easy and following it might not be so.

As a picture book writer, these books inspire me to think about different things to write about. (Notice all the underlined phrases in this post.) Children struggle with forming habits as much as adults do. Sometimes it’s about being consistent, sometimes it’s in the follow-through. Are you inspired to write a fun story for children that introduces the concept of making habits – good ones and fun ones? Here is an inspiring activity to start you off.
Brian Moses introduced a classroom activity on 2nd Jan that children might love to do – maybe this will inspire you to write funny picture books about funny (or maybe even serious and important ) resolutions.
Did you make a resolution for the new year? Can you think of a funny one for adults and one for a young person? Here is my example:
Grown-up: I’ll go to bed before midnight - but it's always before midnight in some country, aint it?
Child: I’ll never eat a snail when its head is out. Ugh!

Add yours in the comments section or tweet it to us @picturebookden 

Chitra Soundar is an internationally published author of over 40 books for children. Her books have been published in the UK, US, India, Singapore and translated into German, French, Japanese and Thai. Her picture books have been included in the White Ravens Catalogue, IBBY International Books of USA, the prestigious Bank Street Bookstore lists and have been shortlisted for many awards. Find out more at and follow her on twitter at @csoundar.