I’m sorry to mention that word, but I hope you’ll forgive me when I explain that I have a new Christmas picture book out soon and I would love you to be in with the chance of winning a signed copy! All you need to do is comment below and I will choose a winner on 1 October 2021.
A family of giants drop a crumb of Christmas Pudding – but one crumb doesn’t matter, does it? Join Pip and his mother, the mice and the ants as everyone benefits from this giant Christmas bonanza and learns that what might be a little thing for you can turn out to be a big thing for someone else. The Christmas Crumb is published by Maverick at the end of the month and is illustrated by the amazing Alex Willmore. It celebrates the value of kindness, especially at Christmas, so I thought I’d share my tips on incorporating a moral or message into your picture book story.
What is your message? If it’s been done before, how can you communicate it differently? In The Day the Crayons Quit, Drew Daywalt tackles the subject of everyone having something to contribute and learning to cooperate, but he did it with crayons instead of people!
Is your message communicated throughout the book? Does anything in the plot contradict it?
Are you telling not showing? The story should show the message. You shouldn’t have to spell it out, although sometimes a summary can be a tidy way to end the story.
Are you preaching too much? Don’t forget to include a plot in your story and a sense of fun if appropriate. It still needs to work as an enjoyable experience. In Catch that Cough by Bonnie Bridgman, the plot involves Maisy chasing her cough, who becomes a character in its own right!
Are you communicating something you feel deeply about? If you care about what you are saying, this will feel authentic and come through to the reader.
Could your story be made more universal? In Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, the message of unconditional love is told using hares rather than people. Using animal characters can allow you to widen your scope.
To enter the draw for a free signed book including postage, please leave a comment below. I will pick a winner using a random number generator on 1 October 2021. Good 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.
This weekend I’m celebrating the release of my new junior fiction title, Homework on Pluto published by Maverick, and as part of that I’ll be giving away a free signed copy to the lovely readers of this blog. To take part, just comment on this post and I will choose a winner at random on 15 May by printing them out and putting them in a hat. (A sou’wester probably, judging by the weather at the moment…)
Junior fiction or chapter books are great fun to write. Here are my tips:
Write to the right length. 6-10,000 words are what you are aiming for. So think in terms of 6 chapters of 1000 words each to give you a rough outline.
Keep it punchy. You’ve got a lot to fit in to make a complete book work within this small space, so don’t waste words on lengthy descriptions or long dialogue exchanges.
Write a series. Readers this age (around 6-10) love series. Conversely, your first book should be able to stand alone, just in case it doesn’t get followed up. And you only need present one book to the publisher, as long as it has series potential.
Create memorable characters. Think Mr Gum, Horrid Henry, Flat Stanley… The character is the book.
Utilise humour. Don’t be afraid to be silly. Silliness is underrated.
The Caterpillar is not only a beautifully produced, high quality quarterly children’s magazine featuring stories, poetry and art, but also has a rather spiffing annual poetry competition. The prize is one thousand euros and publication in the mag. Judging is by renowned children’s poet Chrissie Giffins. Entry is open to anyone over 16 but the poem must not have been published or online. Entry costs twelve euros per poem and entry details can be found here on the website. Closing date is end of March so why not sort through those poems and give it a shot!
I’m celebrating as my new picture book ‘Daddy and I’, illustrated gorgeously by Sophie Burrows, is out today! It was a tricky one to write and to be honest I wasn’t expecting a yes from my publishers at Maverick… maybe because I’d just spent so long hammering away at it, trying to get every verse to include a different rhyme for the word ‘I’. Sometimes you just wish you’d never started something!
I’d been thinking for a while of writing something that worked on two levels, the child’s point of view and the adult’s. What can be quite a mundane experience for us can be full of wonder for a child because they see everything with a fresh eye. A walk was the simplest way of expressing this, and I’ve got lovely memories of going for super-long walks with my Dad (probably quite short now I come to think of it) which we treated as a huge adventure. I thought it would add a fuller background to the story to put it in the context of a Saturday visit where the child doesn’t necessarily spend the rest of the week with her dad, so the time they have together is extra special. When I saw Sophie’s sketches I knew she completely understood what I was trying to say!
I’m glad I finally got the chance to write the idea that had been simmering for so long. Sometimes it can take a long while for a story to brew. At other times it can be very quick. One of the mysteries of the writing process!
And a last minute ‘good luck’ to anyone entering the Writing Magazine/Amy Sparkes/Julia Churchill picture book writing contest. I know a lot of my critique customers are going for this. I’ll be crossing my fingers for you!
My new picture book The Snugglewump illustrated by Kate Chappell is out! The Snugglewump is a featureless comforter with an inferiority complex. When it hears the other toys arguing about which of them Molly loves best, it crawls out of the cat flap and ends up in a puddle in the local park. Will the Snugglewump be reunited with Molly? Could it be that she loves it best after all? To find out, why not enter my free signed copy giveaway? Just comment below and tell me what age group you like to write for and why. I will print off the comments and draw one out of a hat!
Also I’m running a two hour picture book writing workshop at the Get Writing 2017 conference at Oaklands College, St Albans, on Saturday 3 June. It’s an all day event where you pick which workshops you would like to attend as well as talks and opportunities to pitch to agents and publishers. Plus lunch! A lovely day – I have attended several times in the past. More details and tickets available here.
Thank you to everyone to entered the draw to win signed copies of my new books The Snowflake Mistake and Letter to Pluto. To be in with a chance, I asked you to comment with your favourite writing tip. If you haven’t read the comments, there’s some brilliant tips there including keeping a compliments jar, listening to conversations around you (in the non-stalker sense!), using prompts, spending time with nature and reading widely.
The winner is…. Michelle Zal! Michelle, please email me at lou dot treleaven at sky dot com with your address and the dedications you would like on the books and I will post them off to you.
I had a lovely time recently doing two workshops and some book signing at the Booktastic Bedford Children’s Book Festival, which was held this year at the Panacea Museum. I got to meet author Guy Bass too, author of Stitch Head and about a million other books (would love to be that productive and talented!). The event was sponsored by Rogan’s Books, a new independent children’s bookshop which is not like any other bookshop you will have been to – it even has a secret door! Check it out here.
I’ve just had a lovely time doing author events in three local Waterstones stores in Hertfordshire. First I read Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip to the children, and then we made some crazy crafts that the professor would be proud of! It’s so exciting even just being in a Waterstones – the buzz of having famous authors whispering to each other in the shelves, the enthusiasm and passion of the staff, the tantalising new titles laid out just begging to be bought… bliss! It was hard not to go on a splurge and I finally caved in at the last visit and bought my daughter some cracking young adult titles including a signed Rainbow Rowell – what a find!
Thank you to all the children who came to St Albans, Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield Waterstones stores – you were stars and Professor McQuark is very proud of your gadgety glasses and extraordinary oojamaflips!
It’s nearly publication day! Fifteen years ago I started submitting children’s book manuscripts to publishers. Five years ago I decided to share my list of publishers I was submitting to by putting it on my blog. I never dreamed it would be such a popular post, with nearly 800 comments, queries and even success stories. It’s been great sharing the ups and downs of publication with so many people. Finally, on 28 January this month, my own dream will come true and my rhyming picture book, Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip, illustrated by Julia Patton, will be published by Maverick Books.
To say thank you for everyone’s support, I would love to give away a signed copy. If you would like one, please share your new year’s writing resolution below! On publication day I’ll print out the comments and pick one at random. I’ll then be in contact to ask you for your address and dedication.
If you are still submitting, don’t give up! I made this promise to myself and I’m so glad I did. I will keep updating the publishers and agents lists and keep encouraging you all. Maybe your success story will be the next one on here? I hope so! Have a brilliant 2016 and keep writing.
Probably the most exciting part about getting a picture book accepted is seeing the illustrations. More than any other book, a picture book has to grab the reader’s attention from the very first glance, so the illustrations really are the most important part of the package. I can appreciate much more now why most publishers ask for text only. They may have illustrators they are waiting to work with, they have their own house style to pursue, they have access to agencies with hundreds of artists… in short, they are much better placed to make a decision about an illustrator than you are. The exception is if you are an author-illustrator (a rare but amazing breed!) or an already established partnership such as Hedgehugs‘ Steve Wilson and Lucy Tapper (husband and wife as well as writer and illustrator). Having an illustrator chosen for you also gives you a wonderful chance to see your book elevated to another level, as your illustrator brings a whole new level of interest and fun to your text. This has certainly been the case with the illustrator my publishers, Maverick, have selected for Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip: the amazingly inventive Julia Patton.
Normally Maverick will select perhaps three artists and ask for sample spreads before comparing them and selecting their favourite. The author is consulted as part of the decision but is not in charge of making the final choice. In this case, however, they were keen to work with Julia and knew she would be the perfect choice for a book about wacky inventions. I only had to look at her sample spread to instantly agree!
The next time the author will see illustrations is usually when pencil-drawn drafts are produced for each spread, to give a rough idea of how the finished book will look. There is an opportunity for input but again the editor and artist will be making the main decisions. After the pencil stage, it’s time to sit back and try not to fidget too much while the artist puts in the hard graft. As I mentioned in my previous post about promotion, this is a good time to do those pre-publication jobs such as creating a website and Facebook page. When the finished drawings come in and you have picked yourself off the floor in amazement and awe, there is a chance for some typo-hunting, as by now the text will have been laid out on the pages by the editor. At this stage you may get a digital copy, which isn’t actually a virtual book but the real thing. It’s just not the actual book yet. Yes, I don’t understand either. One last check and then it’s off to be printed for real, a process which takes three long months. Time to get very excited indeed!
In my next post I’ll be interviewing Julia Patton about inventions, inspiration and interpretation via parrot. Back soon!