Monday 30 October 2023

Has someone written your idea first? Moira Butterfield

It happens to me on a regular basis. I think up an idea –  an approach to a subject that might be turned into a book (in my case it’s generally kid’s non-fiction). I put this idea on my ‘think about it soon’ list. Before I get round to it a version appears on Instagram. It’s been published! Everyone says it’s original and great thinking! Grrrrrrrr! 

Grumpy author, having just seen her idea already written. 

Does it happen to you? If you’re a regular author I’ll bet it has at some point. 

 It’s deeply irritating for quite a while, even though there is a sensible explanation. Ideas come from the myriad things we see and hear, and others might come upon them from the prevailing zeitgeist, too. I have this picture in my mind of small invisible ideas-with-wings whizzing around everyone like birds – zeitgeist birds, perhaps. They change shape depending on the things that happen to people in the world.  They’re a bit like little Pokemon, I suppose, and sometimes you can see them and catch them. (I told you I had a sensible explanation). 

An idea flying around, possibly near you. 



It’s hard cheese to know that someone else noticed your good idea, gave it a home and put in the time and effort to care for it and grow it more quickly than you did.  


When this happens I think there are three things to do. 


1)    Stomp around feeling annoyed. Get it out of your system (privately). 


2)    Wish the other author’s book well. (In fact if it is successful, the chances are that other publishers will be looking for things in the same area). Seek it out and take a quick look at it to see its approach. before....


3. Take your initial idea and work on it. Play with it. Shape it how YOU want. It’s likely to evolve and become a new thing – perhaps on the same subject but with your take and nobody else’s. Your brain is unique, after all. You can make it yours and yours alone, and I reckon that idea will be better and more original than it might ever have been before. 


To prove the point, here’s a collage I recently made of me and my own brain. Make your own collage of yourself and yours will be entirely different – though still a collage. 

My head in collage form. 

 A good idea came to you. It won’t drift away unless you want it to. Catch it! 


Moira Butterfield is an author of many children’s books sold around the world, including WELCOME TO OUR WORLD (Nosy Crow), the LOOK WHAT I FOUND series (National Trust/Nosy Crow) and THE SECRET LIFE series (Happy Yak).

Moira Butterfield
X/Twitter @moiraworld 
instagram and Threads @moirabutterfieldauthor

Monday 23 October 2023


This post has been a long time in the making. Over ten years in fact! When I first embarked on my picture book journey, my first stories were in rhyme. I eagerly submitted to my more experienced critique group, only to realise that my rhyme wasn’t up to industry standard. For a while after that, I stuck to writing only in prose.

I’m pleased to say that in January 2024, 11 years later, my first rhyming picture book will be publishing with Nosy Crow! So, in this post I reflect and share what I have learned about writing rhyming picture books.



At the start of my writing journey, I thought meter meant counting syllables. I carefully counted the syllables in my texts and if they had twelve syllables in each line, for example, I thought I was doing it right! Here is the first spread of one of my first ever picture book texts:


Thursday, February 7, 2013 GRANDMA’S GREAT BEANS By Clare Welsh

I enjoy soft bananas and raisins and sweets.

I like crunchy carrots and potatoes and beets.

I’m partial to chicken but prefer veggie mince.

I love sausage trifle with a portion of quince!


I was so confused when my lovely critique partners' feedback said that the meter wasn’t working. What was meter? It turns out I didn’t know about scansion! It is possible to write couplets with the same number of syllables without a clear rhythm - without a consistent pattern of stresses and unstresses. Generally, this is what is advised for flawless rhyme that is easy to follow and enjoyable to read aloud. If I was re-writing my story today, I might have done something like this. These rewritten lines now have a /stress/ unstress/ unstress/ stress/ pattern:

I like soft bananas and raisins and sweets,

crunchy raw carrots with bacon and beets.

I’m partial to chicken and love veggie mince.

But best I love trifle with spoonfuls of quince!



I recently met Julia Donaldson at Waterstones Piccadilly and was able to tell her what an inspiration her books have been, both to me as a writer and a teacher. Rhyming texts can be fantastic to read aloud and have an important role in early literacy. But many of Julia Donaldson’s texts don’t have a consistent rhythm throughout and read more like songs. I've learned that Julia can get away with things I can’t! Whilst there are other very successful creatives who have an in instinctive way of finding rhythm, for me at least, I know I’ll have to treat scansion as more of a science.


Thursday, February 7, 2013 GRANDMA’S GREAT BEANS By Clare Welsh

 ‘Bad dog!’ I shouted and I sent him outside.

I thought of the beans and, heartbroken, I cried.

I wept and I snivelled until I could cry no more.

Then all of a sudden, my eye caught the floor...


Coming back to my eleven year old text, you can see there are places where I have re-arranged the natural word-order to make the line rhyme. This can jolt the reader and make for a less pleasant reading experience - you want to avoid it in picture books where possible. Don’t let your rhyme hold your story hostage.

Another example of rhyme leading a story, is choosing words just because they rhyme. For example, including a turf in your under the sea based picture book because it rhymes with surf, even though it doesn't feel like the best word to use in that context. Picture books are focused – every word, every beat, every line should be carefully chosen. Don’t let rhyme lead your story in random directions. It stands out to the reader as a red herring, if not in the line, then by the end of story when turf doesn’t feature again. Don’t settle for lines that are there for convenient rhymes and that you wouldn’t have written if your story was told in prose.  



I’m a big advocate of sharing texts with trusted critique partners. They’ll be able to spot where you’ve re-arranged the natural word order and where details have been added just because you needed a rhyme. They’ll also be able to point out which near rhymes you can and can’t get away with (if any!) A near rhyme is a rhyme that almost rhymes but not quite, like machine and dream. They’ll also advise which rhymes don’t scan or rhyme for them personally. Your rhyme needs to work in different accents and in different continents. What rhymes for a southerner, might not rhyme for someone with a northern accent. What rhymes in UK English, might not necessarily work in American. This is important – your rhyme needs to work for all the readers who may pick up your book.



Because of the sing-song nature of rhyme, we sometimes feel that rhyme can carry a text. And of course, it does! But rhyming stories still need to be great stories, with strong characters, a clear throughline and multiple hooks, just like a text in prose. Take a look at the How To Grow series by Rachel Morrisroe and Steven Lenton, or the Gertie series by Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley.

These are fantastic story concepts, whether in rhyme or prose. (Both of these authors write in exceptional rhyme by the way, if you are looking for examples of the industry standard.)  This point about strong concepts is important for co-editions. A publisher will want to try and sell your text to foreign territories. A rhyming text would have to be translated or re-written in prose, so it needs to be worth that effort.



I mentioned at the top of this article that my first stories were in rhyme. When I realised I didn’t understand scansion, I stopped writing in rhyme for several years. I tried again during the pandemic when a rhyming couplet appeared in my head. Quite instinctively, these became the opening lines of the text publishing in a few months’ time. I’ve still had to work hard to make sure my meter is consistent. I’ve shared the texts with critique partners and editors who have helped to iron out the pitfalls of writing in rhyme mentioned above, but…

I am really pleased that my next picture book will be my rhyming debut! And I hope that this shows you that writing in rhyme – just like writing generally – is a skill you can learn and practise and get better at.



Clare Helen Welsh is a children's writer from Devon. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts - sometimes funny, sometimes lyrical and everything in between! Her latest picture book is called 'Never, Ever, Ever Ask A Pirate To A Party,' illustrated by Anne-Kathrin Behl and published by Nosy Crow. Her debut rhyming picture book will publish in January 2024. You can find out more about her at her website or on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh . Clare is represented by Alice Williams at Alice Williams Literary.

Monday 9 October 2023

Jen Khatun - The Curious Creative and a Devoted Beret Collector by Chitra Soundar

 I recently interviewed Jen Khatun, illustrator of wonderful picture books and chapter books about her work and styles and process. Here are some amazing insights and a peep into her process. Enjoy.

Hi Jen, I've worked with you on four books in the Sona Sharma series. But I know you also illustrate picture books. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello! I’m Jen, Children’s Book Illustrator since 2016, represented by The Bright Agency. My hometown is the quaint and beautiful city of Winchester, Hampshire. My origins begin with my family, my Mum and Dad, both heralded from the exotic land of Bangladesh.

My present is now living nestled somewhere in the rolling hills of East Sussex with my partner and our dog. To describe me in a few words:

- I obsessively wear knit jumpers

- My colours are Red, Yellow, Blue and Pink

- Berets

- a good cup of tea in my hand

- Autumn and Christmas are my favourite times of the year.

Here is a trailer of My Must-Have Mum illustrated by Jen Khatun written by Maudie Smith 

What is your latest book?

My latest book is Stolen History by Sathnam Sanghera published by Penguin Random House. This is an image from that book. 

Image from Stolen History by Sathnam Sanghera

What are your favourite tools for work? 

Pen and Ink are my favourite, and always will be. I just simply love the looseness, the freedom, the whimsical line. But when juggling lots of books, working digitally has helped, especially with editing illustrations. It has saved me time from re-drawing the artwork again, without compensating my illustrational style.

Illustration from Sona Sharma - Wish Me Luck by Chitra Soundar

What is your process for work when you're assigned a new book to illustrate?

  1. Read the brief/manuscript
  2. Note down deadline dates
  3. Character design
  4. Write myself a realistic to-do list- what you aim to achieve each day to get the artwork rolling
  5. Save my work! (if digital)
  6. Don’t get precious with rough artwork, this is the raw stage. Moulding the artwork will be a gradual process.
  7. Feedback from clients is never a negative thing, it will only take the artwork forward.
Artwork from Star Rivals - Bollywood Academy by Puneet Bhandal

 How would you describe your style of art?

In a few words, I would say my style is:
  • whimsical
  • magical
  • fun and bold
  • expressive
  • nostalgic

What are your tips for relaxing especially if you have stacked-up deadlines?

Whether you go out for a walk in the outdoors, read a collection of books, watch your favourite TV series
(My go- to are Columbo and Poirot), or even take yourself to the cafe. 
ALWAYS make time to break away from your desk to get some inspiration and some breathing space. Having a time-out will only fuel your creativity.
Illustration from 
Sit in the Sunand Other Lessons in the Spiritual Wisdom of Cats by Jon M Sweeney

When you started out, was it hard? What did your family say when you didn't want a regular 9-5 job?

‘Art does not bring food to the table’ my Mum would say. I never judged her comment, it simply represented a part of her generation and culture believing that working as a Banker, Solicitor or Doctor would bring happiness, financial stability and status. But that just wasn’t my calling. It took time and hard work to show my Mum how drawing gave me happiness and in time, a healthy illustrious career. 

Mary Poppins as imagined by Jen Khatun

And lastly do you have advice for someone who wants to turn pro or begin their journey as an illustrator?

My last note to all the creatives out there, whether you are studying, graduated or thinking about a change in direction:

- Be curious and explore all mediums to find one that you enjoy and fits you.
- Self-initiated projects- a brilliant way to extend your portfolio.
- Break moulds and be daring- your drawing style is your own signature, you do not need to change it to fit in, respect your authentic self.
- Network- venture out to art and crafts events, shows and seminars. It’s a great way to start the
conversation and get yourself heard.
- Stepping away- A good time away from the desk time to time will re-charge your imagination and will guarantee strong performance and work.

Art from How Many Hairs on a Grizzly Bear?: And Other Big Questions about Numbers written by Tracey Turner

Find out more about Jen Khatun and her work at 

Thank you Jen Khatun for giving us a glimpse into your world and process and sharing some wonderful artwork with us. 

Chitra Soundar is an internationally published, award-winning author of children’s books and an oral storyteller. Chitra regularly visits schools, libraries and presents at national and international literary festivals. She is also the creator of The Colourful Bookshelf, a curated place for books for children by British authors and illustrators.  

 Find out more at and follow her on twitter here and Instagram here.