It feels quite strange writing this because I never set out to be a children’s author and neither do I consider myself one, however, as a result of writing two books for children, I’ve recently been referred to as just that. And it leaves me with a sense of the imposter syndrome!
To celebrate their launch I thought I’d offer an insight behind the scenes into the development of both books.
The Story Behind the Stories
Both Zooster McFlooster & the Very Big Sneeze and The Sock Thief were scribbled in the back of my notebook and written entirely for my own amusement to tell to my Goddaughter, Clarissa (she features in The Sock Thief). They weren’t written to become books, or even to share any further than with Clarissa. But the reaction from Clarissa and her family was good (much more so than I anticipated!) and when I read the short stories to a few other people, they were equally encouraging and suggested I should publish them.
The whole area of book publishing is a complicated, tiresome and long-winded one, and by this stage already become more than a little irritated with the publisher I had a contract with for Flip the Switch, so I decided that if I was to publish both Zooster McFlooster & the Very Big Sneeze and The Sock Thief, I’d do so on my own so that I could use them to help raise funds for a fantastic social enterprise project called Breathe Magic.
Things Get Serious
That all seemed to be quite a nice idea and seemed relatively simple. However, I quickly realised that if the stories were to be released into the public and especially for children to read or be read to, I had a little more responsibility to ensure that the words were correct; the tone and rhythm correct and also that they were accessible to as many children as possible.
Having written five books, I can say that I’ve never agonised over individual words so much as I did with both of these books for children! Should it read: “just one sock was there”, or “but one sock was there”? Does Mabel “take” or “remove” a pair of socks? I individual words and phrases of the story itself were changed so often that I had to type up the story as in my notebook it was almost ineligible! I prefer to keep the working copies on my desk and in-between other tasks in my office, read some of the lines and tweak them – sometimes changing them back to what they were before. It’s quite an enjoyable process but it takes time and although it sounds probably a little obsessive, one word can make a huge difference and as I discovered on several occasions, completely ruin the story because the rhythm and tone is disrupted and jarred.
The rhyming and rhythm are an important part of the story because they helped ensure that the books would be accessible to as many children as possible, especially those learning to read and with dyslexia or finding reading especially challenging.
The Hidden Story
In both books there is a second story; a hidden story that plays out behind the main, written story. In The Sock Thief it involves Brian the Budgie, who after he’s washed and dressed, heads off to the office under the bed and after a long day in the office, returns home to his wife and baby budgie. In Zooster McFlooster & the Very Big Sneeze we see Emmanuel the Squirrel doing what squirrels do best: eating and playing but he introduces us to some of his other animal friends, who are aware, before we are, that Zeus has an especially sneezy nose! Nothing is mentioned about either of the hidden stories in the main text and they were simply a fun thing to add when collaborating with the illustrator, however, many children like to repeatedly look over picture and story books, so I wanted to ensure there was some depth to both the stories themselves and also the illustrations.
Finding An Illustrator
I thought this bit would be simple. I had a contact with my teacher from primary school, who left teaching to pursue a career as an illustrator (and a brilliant one at that). Sadly he wasn’t interested, so I looked around at a couple of alternatives and I just couldn’t find the right style. Originally I was looking for a very traditional, pencil sketched illustrator like all children’s books used to look like. However, that style is becoming a little dated now and with children exposed to digital media so much, I decided I should seek someone who could create something that still felt soft and playful and childlike, but in some way looked a little more modern. I had no idea exactly what I was looking for, nor what it was called and with the stories now finished, I was growing a little impatient.
So, I added a post to Facebook seeking friends with illustrator contacts and a friend of mine recommended Viv Harries. His style was just what I was looking for! You can see on twitter and instagram that I’ve shared some of the fantastic developmental sketches of the books’ characters, which show how Viv took my brief (including some photos of Clarissa and both Zeus and Marley), to digitise them in a way that brings the story to life in a timeless and unique way.
Viv also did the typesetting and created the book as a printable document, which meant we had several discussions about the ideal font. I’d read some research and guidance about specific fonts being better for children with dyslexia and those who find interpreting text challenging, so we used Century Schoolbook in a vivid black.
I did want the books to be in hardback, however, there weren’t sufficient pages in the story for the specialist book printers to achieve that, so the final first edition books are paperback but with thicker, coated pages and a wipe clean cover.
You can purchase both books from the online shop here, which both come with a thank you letter from either Zeus or Marley, signed by me and with proceeds from the sale of each book being donated to Breathe Magic, part of Breathe Arts Health Research. The project teaches children with hemiplegia magic as a form of occupational therapy, designed to develop hand and arm function, cognitive abilities, self-confidence and independence. With startling results.