Some good news to cheer us up during these difficult times – another debut author success story! I interviewed primary school teacher Elisa Peacock about her forthcoming picture book The Bum That Barked, publishing on 11 June by Tiny Tree Books. As with a lot of book launches this year, this one has had to be pushed back but it will definitely be worth waiting for!
Congratulations on your debut picture book! Have you always enjoyed writing?
Thank you so much! And yes I have. My fondest memories of school are; school puddings, visits from the animal man with his collection of tarantulas, lizards and small furries and writing. I had a teacher in primary school who would write a sentence starter on the board and then sit drinking tea for an hour while we wrote in silence. With hindsight I now suspect he was simply enjoying the peace and quiet! But I still remember writing a fractured fairytale based on Cinderella that I was so proud of. Cinders got super fit from all the housework she did, ran away from her evil sisters and became a stunt princess. I remember another one too, about a glowing green rock from space that made people sick (not quite so proud of that one!) But the satisfaction was the same then as it is now, when I felt I had created an exciting plot turn or cool character.
I have been writing all through my career as a teacher too; book titles, half finished stories and notes. I even wrote a picture book with my sister many moons ago, but we submitted it once then gave up. Read more about that later in my advice for those wishing to get published!
When I was younger, writing didn’t seem like an achievable or reliable way to make a living, so I decided to be a teacher – which thankfully I also love. In fact the combination of teaching and writing feels like the perfect partnership.
You are a sublime rhyme writer! What makes you enjoy it so much?
Sublime, wow! *blushes* Yes I do love to rhyme. I know in the picture book world rhyming books divide opinion, but I cannot deny my passion for rhyme. I do enjoy writing in prose too, but as someone who has seen a lot of my work, you know where my heart truly lies.
I think if you are writing you have to do what you love. I love music and one of my favourite hobbies is playing guitar and making up silly book songs. Rhyme is musical and I love the rhythm words can create. Rhyme also provides me with a structure and an enormous sense of satisfaction when I find that perfect rhyming couplet.
Do you feel that being a primary school teacher has helped your writing?
Definitely. Right off the top of my head I can think of four of my books inspired by conversations with children while teaching. Another came from a phrase used by a colleague when teaching and of course every day I am surrounded by picture books.
On average we spend 190 days in school each year. I have read a picture book every day of my teaching career. I’ve taught for 22 years, bringing the total to 4180 picture books read. Plenty of inspiration!
Children are always introducing me to new stories as well. Nothing beats a book review or recommendation from a child – our target audience after all. Their enthusiasm is so contagious and completely honest. I love that.
What gave you the idea for The Bum that Barked?
The idea for The Bum That Barked I am afraid to say, came from an observation of how my dog’s bottom reacts when he barks. I will not go into detail or try to paint that picture for you but that is the truth of the matter! I then went online and searched the phenomenon and found other people who had been equally amused by their dogs apparent barking bots and had posted videos. But I don’t want people to think that is what the actual story is about. *laughs* That was where the title came from and then the story unfolded around it. To be honest title is king for me. If a title resonates with me then I’m off! I never write a story without having the title first and have a long, long list of titles on my desk waiting for their stories to be written. They might change slightly along the way but they tend not to change too dramatically. I feel my stronger stories are the ones whose title hit me right between the eyes, instantly inspiring me to put pen to paper. The Bum That Barked was definitely one of those.
How did the critique process help you? (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink!)
Oh my goodness, where to begin… I finally decided I could no longer deny my author ambitions when my partner had three mini strokes back in 2014. Looking after him and being patient while he recovered from stroke fatigue gave me lots of time to write.
I trawled sites for advice but kept coming back to yours. It gave me a great insight into the market. Your list of agents and publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts was a gold mine, plus your enthusiasm and sharing of your own experience was so encouraging.
When I had written a few manuscripts that I thought were worthy of consideration I decided to try out your critique service. I can’t overstate your expertise at getting to the heart of the problem. In the early days often a major rewrite was called for. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen so much these days. Your advice along the way has been so insightful that I now hear your words when I am editing and am finally getting to the stage when I can identify the problems myself. I can do most of what needs to be done before the text is sent over to you for some final thoughts. I cannot recommend your services highly enough – no nudge required!
I also have to credit you with helping me with The Bum That Barked. Without your advice to take out the puppet, I don’t think it would ever have been published. Readers if you do grab a copy, you will have to imagine the Bean/Bongo character having a puppet too. Talk about over complicating a story! Thanks for that Lou.
Do you have a dog, and does it have a…ahem…talkative bottom?
Yes, I do have a dog and his name is Bean. The main character and pictures in the book are all based on him and he is the sweetest bichon/poodle cross in the world. It was great fun working with the hugely talented Rowena Aitken on the illustrations. I had a folder on my computer called ‘Bean’s bum’ where I compiled pictures of Bean from all angles to aid in the illustration process. Bean was very happy to pose and is lapping up his new found celebrity status. I am very glad to say he doesn’t have a particularly, ‘ahem’ talkative bottom – phew!
What’s the best thing about being a published author?
The best thing about being published is the realisation of a long held dream and finally being able to call myself an author. It’s also fun when I tell the kids at school, as they seem to think I’m a little bit famous now!
What’s your advice for those trying to get published? It can be a hard road.
My advice is simple, just don’t give up. As I mentioned earlier I wrote a picture book with my sister about 18 years ago. We submitted it once and when the publisher turned us down we gave up. Imagine if I had kept up with my writing from that point where I might be now. Keep going and don’t be disheartened if your work is turned down. It just has to find its way to someone who loves it.
I would also say keep working on manuscripts. They can hang around for a long time, so don’t be afraid to play with them. They may need to be reworked and tinkered with to make them relevant for the current market.
What I would also say to fellow rhyme writers is, although I understand agents and publishers have to consider that rhyming books can be less valuable in terms of translation rights, I do think if your story and characters are good enough you can go for it. However, with rhyme I do think it is doubly important to polish, polish, polish. Work on your rhyme until it trips off the tongue.
Another thing I have done ( on your advice Lou ) is to write some stories in both prose and rhyme. This can be a rigorous test for your story and also gives you a bigger arsenal when submitting to prospective agents and publishers.
Most importantly though, just keep writing and believe in your work. There is only one you and only you can write the stories you write.
What’s next for you?
Once the current situation abates, I am looking forward to The Bum That Barked launch. When schools re-open I will be available for author talks/writing workshops and all manner of book related fun.
I am continuing to submit to publishers and hope to get news of a second title soon. It would be great to have another book published to set me on a bit of a roll. I am also seeking representation. I have always envisioned The Bum That Barked as an animation; it would be great to team up with someone who could make that a reality.
I found writing anything impossible in the first week of lock down. My mind being too taken up with the shock, anxiety and uncertainty. Although this is still a difficult situation and often feels quite surreal I am finding my creativity is slowly returning. I currently have two picture books on the go and have resolved to use this time to finally write my mid-grade novel. As a bit of a pantser a novel has always seemed a daunting prospect, but with all this extra time on my hands there is no longer any excuse!
Thanks Elisa! Head over to YouTube for a sneaky peek inside The Bum That Barked.
The Bum That Barked by Elisa Peacock illustrated by Rowena Aitken is available to pre-order from Tiny Tree Books.