I am thrilled to introduce a new series on my blog about Picture Book writers who DO NOT illustrate.
Recently, while struggling with a manuscript, I went to my own bookshelf for inspiration and discovered that almost all of my books were from Author/Illustrators. I didn't have any books that were written by one person and illustrated by another. I realized that I needed to seek out Picture Book writers who did not illustrate their own work as a way of discovering my own process and place in the Picture Book World. I needed to find my peeps!
On Mondays for the month of April, I will be spotlighting a Picture Book writer who will share their experiences with "writing without pictures".
Today I welcome a friend from "across the pond"... Julie Fulton, author of "Mrs. MacCready was Ever So Greedy". I find her story fascinating, as she is a newly published author who was somewhat an "accidental picture book author". But it is no accident that "Mrs. MacCready..." has become a hit! Julie's book is delightful! It is obvious she has found her place in the community and we look forward to reading more from her.
Thank you, Julie, for popping by to share your story!
The path to having my first picture book published may be a little different from what is perceived to be normal. Ask my husband, he’ll tell you. If there’s a way to do something differently, I’ll find it.
Did I realise I was writing a picture book?No. It hadn’t even entered my head. I was creating children’s poems. As a child I inhabited a world full of the works of people such as Dr Seuss, Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Spike Milligan. I loved their nonsense verses, the sounds of the words they used, the rhythm of their writing.
A few years ago I joined a writing group, where the tutor was first and foremost a poet. Yippee, I thought. We studied and worked on the craft of writing in all its forms, but I continued to create my silly verses for children.
What made realisation dawn?The feedback and support of my tutor and fellow writers. I was slow on the uptake. Thank goodness they persevered. I never seemed to hear them saying, ‘You ought to send that off. That would make a good picture book.’ No, they weren’t being serious.
The drip-feed effect eventually got to me. I gave in and researched in The Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and sent my selection of texts to a publisher. I waited. I received the standard rejection. ‘Told you so,’ I said to my writing group. ‘Try again,’ they urged.
A small advert in Writers’ Forum magazine caught my eye. I submitted and before I knew where I was I’d been taken on by Maverick Books, who liked my story ‘Mrs MacCready Was Ever So Greedy’.
Did I feel like a PB writer now?Not really. It all happened so quickly. I’d never thought of the tale of Mrs MacCready as being anything more than words on a page. I had no preconceived images in my head. Nothing. Truth be told, I still feel a rank amateur.
So what happened next?
Steve Bicknell, MD of Maverick Books, sent my text out to illustrators. From the sketches returned he chose Jona Jung to bring Mrs MacCready to life. After her pencil sketches for each spread were sent through to me, I was given the chance to comment on what I felt worked and what I thought needed to be changed or added. There wasn’t much, she’d done a brilliant job! (Jona lives in Poland and we’ve never met. We do communicate by e-mail. Through this I discovered she doesn’t speak much English and works on my text in translation. My admiration of her illustrations more than doubled when I found that out!)
How much of my text was changed once the illustrations were underway?On the whole it remains much as it was when I first submitted. One or two clumsy lines were altered in consultation with both Steve and Kimara Nye, Maverick’s Publishing Assistant, but this had nothing to do with the pictures.
Did I learn anything about writing picture books before any artwork is considered?
Most definitely! Maverick have asked me to come up with more ‘Ever So’ stories. ‘Tabitha Posy Was Ever So Nosy’ is with Jona right now. I approached the writing of this book in a very different way.
I had to stick to the rhythm and rhyme structure set down in the previous story, but I found I could see pictures in my head this time. I knew I was writing a picture book. There are some lines in the verses that will only make sense when matched with an illustration.
The ethos at Maverick of working as ‘a family’ means I know I can discuss what’s needed and we’ll work together to get it right. This time a couple of verses have been cut and some lines altered, but all in consultation and discussed thoroughly! Having spoken with other published PB writers within the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, this doesn’t always seem to be the usual way of doing things. Maverick are certainly maverick by name and nature!
Will I ever write a picture book again without thinking about the illustrations?
I think I can honestly state : No!
I have made it my aim to read a different picture book each week. To study them. To see what each illustration adds to the story. The best piece of advice I have been given to date is ‘Read, read, read’.
I have just finished another text and begun editing. Lots of words are disappearing. I now realise far more what is and isn’t needed. What can be inferred in the text or left out all together, because a good illustrator will see it and place it in their drawing. I have even been trying out my own comic sketches to see what might be included in the drawings and therefore which words I can do away with. Those who know me will remember I gave up art at school aged 13. These sketches are for my eyes only - a tool to help me edit!
There are fantastic books out there about the craft of writing picture books. My current favourite is ‘Writing Picture Books’ by Ann Whitford Paul. In it she states : ‘The illustrator’s pictures are the narrative of our words. That’s why we don’t need…long descriptions. The pictures will show what the character looks like….the setting. Trust the creativity of the artist.’
So, how do you create half a picture book and make it a success?
I’m not sure I feel experienced enough to answer that one. I can only say what I have discovered so far.
Think about the age group you are aiming your story at. Find out what language is expected of children at that age. Think about your word count. Rhyming stories are often frowned upon, but children (and teachers) love them and they can include far more words of a higher level. The children will follow the rhythm and rhyme and learn as they go. If not rhyming you will probably use less words. There are some marvellous books with little text that tell fabulous stories. ‘Not now, Bernard’ by David McKee and ‘Diary of a Wombat’ by Jackie French spring to mind.
Try taking your favourite book and re-writing it with all the description needed for it to make sense without the pictures. Then you might see how much can be left out once an illustrator becomes involved.
Most of all, don’t stress. If you have a good story it will work. Tell it in the leanest way possible. Don’t worry about setting the scene, telling us what the character looks like or what they wear. It’s ‘Show not Tell’ in its truest form. Give the bare bones of your tale and let the illustrator, whoever they may end up to be, show the reader - and you - the rest!
Julie Fulton is a British Picture Book Author who lives in Worcestershire, UK. You can find out more about Julie at www.juliefulton.com or at her blog http://www.juliefulton.com/blog-1/. Her first book, "Mrs. MacCready was Ever So Greedy" was published by Maverick Books.