Monday, 9 March 2020

Ideas by Patricia Cleveland-Peck

During the course of 2020, we are inviting author Patricia Cleveland-Peck to share her thoughts on many aspects of being a picture book author.

On joining Sassies I was very pleased to discover Picture Book Den  and  have since spent many hours reading the valuable resource  of past blogs. One of the first I read was about that most frequently asked question - “Where do you get your ideas?”    It is one we all get a bit tired of answering, perhaps because as Stephen King put it, ‘we know we don’t know.’
Memories, dreams, poems, paintings, a snatch of conversation: it seems any of these can be a catalyst but it got me wondering if I could discern any sort of pattern in my own case.   I noticed that several times  it has been quite a tiny experience which provided the spark - although it developed and changed its clothes many times before reaching the page. In the case of You Can’t Take and Elephant on the Bus, it was just a sentence which I heard my granddaughter, aged about 3, say to my late husband. “Grandpops, you can’t take and elephant on the bus.” She said this in all seriousness but the result was the first of my silly Elephant picture books so brilliantly illustrated by David Tazzyman.

It can also simply be a glimpse of something. The Queen’s Spaghetti came about when I cooked some spaghetti. I like cooking but having been married to a restaurateur and chef who always did all things culinary  faster and better than me, I lacked experience and was a poor judge of quantities. Anyway on this occasion I cooked far, far too much of the pasta and as my husband, (like King Jim in the book) ‘didn’t like waste,’ I felt compelled to get rid of as much of the evidence as possible before he got home. This was something relatively easy  on a smallholding – and it took just a glimpse of our ducks waddling up the path with their beaks tied up with spaghetti for the picture book potential to strike me.
Another real event which resulted in a book occurred when our ginger cat, Joseph, kept going missing for a few days. This went on for quite a while and as he always came back in his own time we didn’t worry. One day however, a neighbour was visiting.
      “What are you doing with my cat Billy?” he asked, quite indignantly when he saw Joseph curled up asleep on one of our chairs.
      “No, no that’s our cat Joseph, we’ve had him for years,” we replied.
It turned out that the neighbour had taken him in as a stray - and so Joseph/Billy had been enjoying a double life with extra food and cuddles. Thus was born Freckle and Clyde, the story of two children who, unknowingly shared, or were owned, by the same cat.
Another even more bizarre happening which set me off was in fact something (mis) overheard. A while back my husband came home one day and told me that he had visited a woman who had told him, “not to go in the front room as there was an escaped German in there.” I knew my husband was interested in WW2 and immediately imagined a scenario in which this woman had kept a prisoner hostage since the war. Crazy, I know, especially as it turned out to be was an escaped gerbil she was talking about - but the seed was sown and the incarceration of a German prisoner for 30 years in a county house is the subject of my as yet unpublished story for older readers, The Monkey Room.

So probably we writers get our ideas wherever we can, the trick is recognising and snatching them as they flit past.

My name is Patricia Cleveland-Peck and I write picture book texts. When my own children were little I wrote about 14 children’s books but gradually drifted into writing for adults as they grew up. It was when I had a granddaughter that I returned to the wonderful world of picture books. It was her remark, “You can’t take an elephant on the Bus,” which resulted in my book of the same name. For more details visit my website 

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