What’s new in picture books … Emma Middleton talks about her ‘inner lion’

My guest author today is Emma Middleton. Emma is a Queensland author (and illustrator) whose delightful picture book, The Lion in our Living Room has just been released with Affirm Press. The book’s illustrator is Briony Stewart.

Emma, tell us about your experience of writing this book:

In the early stages of writing The Lion in our Living Room, I was inspired by the phrase, ‘I’m coming to get you!’ and the delightful excitement that follows. This evolved into a celebration of the role fathers play in the lives of their children.

I pictured a father playing with his children, chasing them and giving piggy back rides. Imagining the father as a mighty roaring lion seemed even more fun, and so, The Lion in our Living Room was born.

I have felt very honored during the collaborative process, as I have had the opportunity to work with two of Australia’s top editors, Clair Hume and Davina Bell from Affirm Press.  Clair has involved me at every step of the book creation process and she is an outstanding talent at every level of publishing.

The narrative is finely balanced with the visual. It was a joy to see Briony Stewart’s stunning and highly detailed illustrations bring the story to life. 

What inspired you to write this book?

I distinctly remember the moment of inspiration when I was thinking about the emotions of childhood. It is a time of expectancy, and I wanted to explore the thrill of anticipation. The phrase, ‘I’m coming to get you!’ came into my mind and became the catalyst for the story. I wanted to depict this excitement with the lion games played between father and child.

The Lion in our Living Room presents a positive role model of fatherhood. Is this something you set out to portray in your story?

To be honest, this wasn’t my initial objective. I was trying to express a thrilling experience of childhood, and what could be better than piggy backs and lion rides from a loving father figure. I am delighted that it has evolved into an inspiring depiction of fatherhood, as the important role fathers play in families is often underestimated by our society.

Emma Middleton, author

You have a background in theatre – how does this influence your approach to picture books?

To me there is a huge similarity between theatre and writing for children; rhythm, pace, story, drama, emotion and movement. Once theatre is in your blood, it remains with you forever. I hope to involve children in theatrical presentations of my stories.

You are also an illustrator yourself? Does this affect your writing?

I believe so. As I write, I visualize the pictures telling their half of the story, so the words do not need to spell out every element. This is one reason why I am enamored with picture books. I believe it is the only true genre, where the pictures are an essential ingredient to the story telling.

I’m especially interested in the differences between writing and illustrating a picture book. Tell us about your experience.

I guess the main difference between writing and illustrating is the audio component compared to the visual. Of course, the illustrations are paramount in a picture book, and one would not exist without the other, however the words provide the strongest sense of rhythm.  I love the challenge of writing with rhythm and rhyme. Children are naturally rhythmical and respond to the sound of words; the alliteration and onomatopoeia. I remember my son once saying how he remembered enjoying the Dr Seuss books even before he could fully understand the story; mesmerised by the sound of the words. I love to play with sentences that possess their own sense of movement; words that can dance inside your imagination and establish a beat.  To this end, I try to create refrains that emphasise the energy and emotion of the story. Both writing and illustrating are deceptively difficult, but hugely rewarding when they finally come together.

Thank you, Emma. I wish you well with this gorgeous picture book, and I can’t wait to read it to my new grand-daughter one day.

The Lion in our Living Room is available from all good book shops and online.

2 thoughts on “What’s new in picture books … Emma Middleton talks about her ‘inner lion’

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  1. I very much enjoyed your interview with Emma, Sheryl. I had the pleasure of attending the Avid Reader launch of The Lion in the Living Room with my granddaughter. It was such a fun launch and, I agree, it is a lovely picture book. My granddaughter was very taken with Emma, her lion, and her lovely book. I add my wishes for success to yours.


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