Just a little reminder that there’s still time to enter two fabulous writing competitions – but only if you’re quick! Entry closes on 31 October 2020 for both the Picture Book Prize and the (new) Chapter Book Prize run by Writing Magazine together with top agent Julia Churchill and super-duper tale spinner and all round good egg Amy Sparkes. You can win valuable feedback from Amy and Julia to kickstart your writing career, and previous winners of the Picture Book Prize have gone on to be represented and published. Entry is £5 and you can find the details here:
I’m delighted to say that my new middle grade (age 8-12) book Turns Out I’m an Evil Alien Emperor is finally out! The sequel to Turns Out I’m an Alien sees Jasper and Holly jetting back into space to face the Emperor of Andromeda on his own planet and is even more full of slime, slugs, double agent pop stars and squelchy alien friends and foes than the first instalment (and probably twice as silly as well).
As a thank you for following, I’m giving away both books in the series to one winner, plus I also have two new early readers in the Maverick Early Reading Scheme to give away as well. So just let me know which you would like in the comments – Turns Out or early readers – and I’ll select the two winners at random on Monday 28 September.
Best of luck!
I hope you are all well and staying safe. Just a reminder that my critique service is still going, and also that I have some free resources on my site at the moment if you are home schooling. My next online picture book writing course starts on 6 May so if you are interested please fill out the form or pop me an email.
If you fancy a treat, tune in to Konnie Huq reading an extract from Letter to Pluto as part of her daily broadcasts to children on her YouTube channel. I love her brief history of time and the planet she creates at the end! Having watched her on Blue Peter I’m very honoured to have her read one of my books.
My latest book has been delayed until later in the year, but on the bright side this has given me a chance to add an extra surprise to the back which I hope will be fun for readers to find. Of course with libraries and bookshops closed it’s a very odd, flat time in the book world, but I would urge anyone buying a book to see if their local bookshop is offering an online service as this may help them stay open during the crisis.
My very best wishes to you and yours and be well.
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.
In these uncertain times, lots of people are pulling together to make resources available for people at home. There are some great activities going on with authors reading their books on YouTube, daily drawing sessions and writing prompts. Check out Draw with Rob, Let’s Draw with Maddie Frost, How to Write with Gareth P Jones and Steve Antony Daily for starters.
I have updated my website to include lots of free worksheets and resources for anyone homeschooling or just looking to keep the children occupied. Also check out my giveaway of 6 early readers on Twitter. I’m hoping to put some more stuff on YouTube soon too, but meanwhile I have some book extracts and some Q and A sessions on my channel.
Stay safe and well everyone,
I’ve been asked a number of times to explain scanning in rhyming picture books, so I’d thought I’d share this recent emailed explanation in the hope that it helps. Scanning, or scansion, is for some people an instinctive skill, while others need to give it more thought. Basically if you regard your rhyming picture book text as lyrics for a song, or more specifically one verse that repeats over and over, you have the gist of it. It’s worth remembering that Julia Donaldson was a lyricist before she was an author – no wonder her picture book texts are so rhythmic.
If you were given a popular song and asked to rewrite the lyrics, you would have to make sure that every syllable matched a note. In the same why, when writing you are trying to fit words into the same sort of tight pattern. Let’s say your chosen rhythm is De DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM.
So your verse without words would be
De DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM.
De DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM.
De DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM.
De DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM.
Catchy, isn’t it? Now imagine putting the words to that, eg off the top of my head:
A lonely mouse came out one day
And asked an elephant to play.
The elephant said, ‘Not just now.
I have a playdate with a cow.’
The reason this fits is that (a) every syllable fits on to a de or a DUM and (b) every stressed syllable is on a DUM and every unstressed syllable is on a de.
An example of (a) every syllable fits
if the first line was ‘A tortoise came out one day’ it wouldn’t work as there’s a missing syllable after tortoise so we have to leave a pause when we read it aloud to get it to fit. The reader won’t know about this pause. Your aim is to make your text ‘first read proof’ so even if the reader has no idea what the rhythm is it will still be there. What about a longer word? If I wrote ‘A hippopotamus came out one day’ I have gone well over the amount of syllables I have for that line. In fact to make it fit I would have to change it more substantially. ‘A hippopotamus one day…’ would work , but then the next line would have to be changed as well to make sense.
An example of (b) every stress fits
If we tried to use ‘alert mouse’ instead of ‘lonely mouse’, it doesn’t work because the stress on this word needs to be on the first syllable in order to fall on DUM in the rhythm, as in lonely, not the second syllable, as in alert.
Here’s the verse again with the stressed syllables shown in bold:
A lonely mouse came out one day
And asked an elephant to play.
The elephant said, ‘Not just now.
I have a playdate with a cow.’
The words have to fit the rhythm to create the correct scansion so you need to pick your words carefully; you can’t force them in or change the way they are stressed because it just won’t work. It either fits or it doesn’t – rather like doing a word puzzle. The difference is that you create the framework yourself, but you then need to stick to it throughout.
A good way to test your text is to get someone else to read it through aloud without reading it beforehand. Does the rhythm hold? Are there any pauses, hesitations or rushed parts? Is the rhythm clear? Can you clap along to it? You can try the clapping bit without anyone else to help. Establish the rhythm you need with your hands acting as a metronome and then start reading. Good luck!
Fancy a new challenge this autumn? My next online picture book writing course starts on 4 September, and there are still some places left.
“Your course is the first one I have taken and I have learned so much over the 6 weeks’ duration. I now know exactly where I have been going wrong all these years. It has now given me confidence to start submitting stories again.” S Stokes, May 2019 course student
WRITING PICTURE BOOKS WITH LOU TRELEAVEN
A 6 week course starting on 4 September 2019
To research the market and practise picture book writing techniques in order to create an edited draft of a picture book.
Week 1 – Researching the market
Week 2 – Structure and characters
Week 3 – The importance of plot
Week 4 – Picture book language
Week 5 – Edit edit edit
Week 6 – Submitting to agents and publishers
Course materials and structure
The course takes the form of pdfs which contain the course information, handouts and exercises. These will be emailed once a week, but there is no time limit so you can take your time and fit the course in around work and family life.
Support from Lou throughout the course
As a published author of six picture books and another in production, I can help you work towards publication and will be with you every step of the way. I will give you feedback on each week’s assignment so you know you are on the right track before critiquing your final draft.
Finish the course with a completed picture book
Through the course you will research, plan, draft, redraft and ‘submit’ a complete picture book, which I will then critique so you will have the best possible work to go forward towards submitting to agents or publishers.
You will need:
An email address and access to the internet.
Time to do homework (roughly an hour a week minimum).
A passion for writing. That’s it!
How to enrol
Simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm your place, or use the form on my website. Payment should be made before the course starts either by PayPal to my email address, or please request bank transfer details. Payment by instalments welcome as long as the balance is paid before the start date.
I’m really pleased to share the news that another of my critique customers, Brigita Orel, is having her picture book published very soon. The Pirate Tree is due out on 5 September from Lantana Publishing. Illustrated by Jennie Poh, it looks absolutely beautiful. Brigita kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her publication journey below.
Brigita has also kindly offered a free copy of The Pirate Tree to one reader of this post, shipped to anywhere in the world! To win, just comment below and I will draw out a winner at random on 26 August. Good luck!
What was your inspiration for The Pirate Tree?
The idea of a multicultural friendship sort of stems from my interest in multilingualism and multiculturalism. I think it’s important to introduce children to these concepts early on, and what better way to do it than to get them engaged with a fun story about pirate friends?
How important was the critique process (no pressure!)?
Since English is not my mother tongue, feedback is vital for me, particularly when it is so honest and constructive as your suggestions for my manuscript. Your comments helped me see the text in a new light which is always a good thing and a good starting point for revisions.
What made you choose Lantana Publishing?
When I browsed their website and then read a couple of their picture books, I realised they would be the perfect publisher for my story. They want to see all children represented in literature so that every child can find a character to identify with. Since my manuscript celebrates diversity, too, I immediately decided to submit to them. That they are a small independent publisher was a bonus because I felt that would be ideal for my first solo trip into the publishing business.
You have already been published in various formats; how different did it feel to get a picture book accepted?
I’ve been gathering experience in the publishing world for more than a decade (as a translator and by being included in collections of short stories/poems), so that certainly helped when my picture book was accepted. However, having my first picture book published as a sole author is different – both frightening and exciting. But I suppose every project, every publisher, every stage of a writer’s career is different, so I hope to never lose the element of excitement and novelty. The frightening aspects, I could do without.
The illustrations are beautifully drawn by Jennie Poh. How did you find the illustration process? Did you get any input?
The illustrations are indeed beautiful! I was thrilled when I saw the spreads for the first time. I didn’t get any input, but I don’t think it was needed. When I write a story, I of course imagine how it would look when illustrated. But when an illustrator reads it, they interpret it differently and I think that gives a story another layer. The final, illustrated version is like a combination of two slightly different stories and I believe that gives the reader even more space for interpretation.
You write in a lot of different formats, from poetry to essays to picture books. Which is your favourite? Do you plan on writing more picture books in the future?
The funny thing is that my favourite genre (to write and to read) is probably MG and YA, but I haven’t published anything in it yet (not that I haven’t tried). But I’m already working on two more picture book texts, so hopefully those two will find a home with a publisher, too.
You are currently studying for a PhD in creative writing. How important do you think it is for writers to learn the craft academically?
I don’t think writers need to learn the craft academically. The only way to learn to write is by writing. But I like to learn new things and challenge myself and that’s why I enrolled in a CW PhD. For me, it has been an amazing journey that has taught me a lot about my writing process and about myself as a writer/person. And I’ve had the best supervisor, so all in all, it’s been a great experience. In addition, the deadlines forced me to write even when I didn’t feel like it – it turned writing into a habit and that’s a good thing for every writer.
And finally… what was the best thing about doing a Masters on Harry Potter? (So jealous!)
Ha, that was a great excuse for when people raised their eyebrows at me for reading Harry Potter for the tenth time! But I also think when you study a book so thoroughly and from a slightly different perspective (research vs. pure enjoyment), you discover things about it that you might otherwise miss. It’s like a treasure hunt, only you then have to put it all into a thesis form (not my favourite part!). This was to some extent the reason for my PhD, too – to dig deeper, to look at things through an academic lens.
Many thanks to Brigita.
The Pirate Tree is published by Lantana Publishing. Order through their website and they will donate an additional copy to a charity working to promote reading in low income households.
Visit Brigita Orel’s website for more information about her writing.
Have a look at Jennie Poh’s wonderful illustration work.
Find out more about submitting to Lantana Publishing.
* THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO TOOK PART! THE DRAW IS NOW CLOSED AND THE WINNERS ARE DENISE THE ALIEN AND RACHAEL THE PIRATE! WILL BE IN TOUCH TO ARRANGE FOR YOUR BOOKS TO BE POSTED. *
This month is an exciting one. I have three books out on 28 May! Three! It seems hard to believe that only four years ago I was submitting manuscripts and wondering if I would ever find someone who liked what I wrote. So to celebrate I would like to give a signed copy of each of them to you, dear reader, plus a copy of the latest Pluto book, Teachers on Pluto. That’s what I would like to do anyway, but I can’t, because I can’t give away a thousand copies. So instead I will do a draw.
The Pirate Package
You have two choices: The Pirate Who Lost His Name picture book plus Slugs in Space early reader (henceforth to be known as The Pirate Package, even though one of them is a slug), or Teachers on Pluto junior fiction and Turns Out I’m an Alien middle grade books (The Alien Package). To enter the draw, just let me know in the comments section whether you are a pirate or an alien. I will draw the two winners on 28 May. Good luck!