JOURNEY OF A PICTURE BOOK … from idea to bookshelves

9573503_origAre you aiming to write a picture book for children? Check out my guest blogger today – Australian author, Ellie Royce. Ellie talks about the journey of her first picture book, LUCAS AND JACKfrom first glimmer of an idea to bookshelves.

Lucas and Jack is the story of Lucas, young boy who waits impatiently for his Mum to finish visiting his Great Grandpop at a nursing home each week. “Waiting is boring!” is the first line in the story.

One week, as he wishes for his Mum to “Hurry! Hurry!” Lucas meets Jack, a rather special resident of the nursing home. Through a tricky game of “I Spy”, Jack shows Lucas that underneath the wrinkles and grey hair, older people are really just people – even Great Grandpop was a boy once – and Lucas decides that visiting might not be so bad after all.

Where my story ideas come from.
As is always the case with me, this book began as an idea that came a knocking at my brain. The idea said, “You work with older people who have led exciting and brilliant lives. They all have stories but all we see when we look at them is their white hair and wrinkles. What would they say if they had the chance and who would they say it to?”

I had never written a picture book before, but even though this is a pretty big idea to try and fit into 450 words, the picture book format seemed to be the most appropriate. This story needed to be told simply, so that younger people and older people could understand and connect with it, although from different ends of the spectrum. All well and good, right? But wait… there’s more… 1673147_orig

Writing a picture book text is like panning for gold.
I can’t tell you how many different drafts I did, from different perspectives, using different words, until I struck gold. Probably upwards of fifty. And that was before I even started properly!

Then I had to learn how to cut down the text and let the illustrations do their job – a vital skill to develop for anyone who wants to write a picture book. I was recently doing school visits for Book Week 2014 and we discussed this at length, for example – “It was a bright sunny day” is a BIG no no! You need to constantly ask yourself – “will the illustration show this?” again, to continue the panning for gold analogy, every word has to earn its place and be a 24 carat nugget or get rid of it.

You also need to be aware of the format – a standard type picture book has 32 pages so you have approximately fifteen chunks of text to work with.  Luckily for me I had some great mentors on the journey who gave me this kind of good advice that I’m now passing on!

My journey to publication.
Lucas and Jack started life as a story called “Underneath” – as in, underneath we are very much the same if you look more closely. After many different drafts it metamorphosed into “Before You Were Old” which is when my agent began sending it to potential publishers. It was rejected by all of them in that first round of submissions, but some of them gave me some useful feedback.

I actually kept one of the rejections on my desktop because it was one of the nicest and most encouraging rejections I’ve ever received!

I put the story away for about six months and tried to forget it, but it just would NOT leave me alone. So I pulled it out, looked again, read the feedback from publishers and re wrote another five or six drafts. Then I pretty much badgered my agent unmercifully (“Nag Nag Nag” is one comment I believe he sent me at this time – said playfully of course!) into trying again.

This time, one publisher expressed interest ‘if’ they could find the right illustrator. Well, you know the end of the story. The right illustrator was found, luckily for me and now “Lucas and Jack” is a reality. The whole process? About three and a half years.

Working with an editor.

I was very lucky that my editor was also my publisher. Working Title Press is a small operation so there was no passing of any bucks, it was all straight to and from the horse’s mouth so to speak.

The best advice I can give to writers is – be open to change during the editorial process. A book, especially a picture book, is collaboration, a team effort. I certainly had my own vision about what I thought it should look like. The finished product, I have to say, was very different to that original concept. It’s now better, more age appropriate and works on a level my inexperienced brain could not have conceived. So, let your work go and be prepared to re think it.

My experience was very positive. All my suggestions were all taken on board. There was only one thing I felt really strongly about and held out for and now everyone agrees it worked that way. So don’t be a doormat, but don’t be inflexible either.

The editing process (with waiting for the artwork to be completed) took about a year.

ON WRITING A NOVEL: Part 2 … video interview

Here’s Part 2 of the video interview with Mark G Mitchell in Austin, Texas … talking about illustrating the chapter motifs for my children’s novel, SECRETS OF EROMANGA; the novel’s Australian Society of Authors’ mentorship; jumping a slush pile; researching a novel on a fossil dig in western Queensland – the inside story; doing school visits in Australia.


Facing the terror of a video-interview …done it! Part 1

I have no fear of public speaking in front of a roomful of children, or adults, well, except for a few tummy flutters beforehand. But nothing was as fearful as being the subject of a video interview.

That’s how I felt when I was in the United States last year and Mark G. Mitchell, an illustrator, author, blogger, interviewer and SCBWI member from Austin, Texas set up an interview between he, his trusty, tiny camera and me .

There we were in the Children’s Section of the beautiful library in Austin with the camera set up on a tripod and all ready to go … scary! But under Mark’s wonderful ability to put people at ease and his great questioning techniques, I forgot the camera was there. As you can see when I tell a few secrets!

Here’s Part 1 in the video Mark made where I talk about the writing of Secrets of Eromanga, and about my journey to being published. And a few other bits and pieces. (I look a bit dorky at the beginning … put it down to shaking legs!) Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

Check out Mark’s website link to his very successful How to be a Children’s Book Illustrator  So many interesting and useful articles, videos etc that will fascinate illustrators, artists and author alike. Mark also runs online classes. mark mitchellThank you, again, Mark, it was a great experience for this first-timer!



Would you like to know how the inside of a writer’s head works? A good way to show you is to cut open my 480-word short story, AND YET, IT MOVES.

I’m posting as part of a blog-chain hop (a small link, I am) of how authors think and work. Passed on by wonderful performance poet, Zenobia Frost to my lovely friend, author, Michael Gerard Bauer and then on to me. (Yes, I am breaking the rules of procedure a bit here by not answering the set questions!)

Where do the ideas for my short stories come from? It still surprises me, even after 15 weeks in my 52-Week Flash Fiction Challenge, but I’ve learned to trust in the creative process that it will happen. And week in, week out, it does. Here’s how AND YET, IT MOVES came to be.

The stimulus word/s that week were CELESTIAL BODY. I usually start with a visual mind-map, scribbling down many thoughts about the topic, but this time I didn’t have to. For me, Celestial body = astronomy = Galileo, the father of modern astronomy, and my life-long hero. I knew lots about his life so didn’t have to research too much. But a short story couldn’t look at his whole life. It had to focus on one small incident – significant enough, or interesting enough to make the story sing. This is where being a keen observer of human behaviour helps.

Conflict is part of every story, especially for the main character. And so it was for AND YET, IT MOVES. I knew the history, I knew what happened when Galileo made a telescope and became the first human to see the pockmarked face of the moon – to work out that no, the sun and the moon didn’t circle our Earth. Therefore, Earth and its ‘made in the image of God’ humans were not the centre of God’s Universe. Galileo couldn’t help himself – he was a man who had to share his beliefs, widely. The Vatican’s black-robed priests of the Inquisition placed him under house-arrest. Would he recant his heresy or die? Justus_Sustermans_-_Portrait_of_Galileo_Galilei,_1636

Flash Fiction has no room for a cast of characters. There’s Galileo, of course, but who else. That’s when the magic happened … into my head popped the image of a young boy bringing a meal to this dangerous, white-haired prisoner … and my story was born. Young Guido had been warned not to listen to him, not to talk to him. So what sort of boy is Guido? And what impact will he have on the life of Galileo. I scribbled a quick outline, and let it bubble away in my imagination for a couple of days.

They’re all essential things to get right – without using too many words. It’s set in Firenze, in the 16th Century, at night. I had to use enough sensory images to set the scene, but keep the story flowing.


Teaching young people how to write short stories

Flash Fiction needs to end with a twist – ending with a POW! An ah-ha moment. I knew as I wrote the first draft where this story would lead … it wasn’t really a conscious decision, more instinctive story-telling. A gut-feeling of wanting to right a wrong. To see human intelligence and valour work for this great man and young Guido.

Perfect titles are essential in Flash Fiction. They must say everything, without giving too much away. ‘And yet, it moves‘ are the words that Galileo is rumoured to have muttered when he recanted his teachings in front of the Inquisition and the Pope – he was not put to death, but remained under house arrest the rest of his life, continuing his studies and exploring the heavens. He discovered the moons of Jupiter and many more truths we know today.

 The thought of this brilliant man holding his beliefs against ignorance, cruelty and superstition will stay with me forever.

I hope you enjoy reading my story….  AND YET, IT MOVES.


Check out these two blogs next week for two more shiny chain links