Above is a picture of my newest book: 'I want a Friend', written by me and illustrated by Amy Proud ( soon to be published by Lion Books).
Most children's writers say that they are inspired by the child they were and the child who, to some extent, still lives inside them.
This is me holding my dad's hand - I am not sure how old I was - maybe three - but I recognise that I still stand like that and frown when I feel shy! This was the little girl who loved her teddies so much that she regarded them as family, and slept on the floor so that they would all fit in her bed, and the little girl who wanted a dog, who loved donkeys and who believed fervently in Father Christmas. That child is still inside me even though I will be 52 years old next birthday and am married with four children of my own.
But I don't just depend on my childhood or my 'inner child'. I need to meet real children too.
Like so many children's writers I need and am so grateful for feedback from children. Letters from children can make writing feel so worthwhile and make a children's writer want to write yet more to make them happy. It’s like the opposite of a vicious circle! I also love meeting them at schools and in libraries and book shops and chatting to them about my stories. It is the best feeling ever to know that something you have written has been enjoyed by a real child, not just one you have imagined.
But, cheered by positive feedback and keen to write more, where do the ideas for new books come from?
Well, ideas from children themselves help. My friend’s daughter, who has been reading the Lucy books I write for OUP, mentioned how she was hoping that Lucy would, in fact, go into the magic snow globe one day, and all I can say is…the fourth Lucy book is coming out this October and I will be sending her a copy with a big thank you note.
Sometimes (mostly!), however, there isn’t a child to hand when you sit down to write, and writing can be a lonely business! I have found that TV programmes can be a gift - I am sure that I am not the only writer who watched ‘The Secret Life of Four, Five and Six Year olds’ for inspiration, listening carefully not only to the children but to the psychologists’ comments on child development and issues small children face. This, coupled with great feedback from my lovely agent and also from a wonderful commissioning editor from Lion, resulted in me writing my next picture book, ‘I want a Friend’ and setting it in a nursery - watching children learn how to make friends on TV , combined with my own experiences with my own and others’ children, my memories of my own childhood, and a bit of imagination, helped create a text. Then this text was put together with illustrations by the wonderful illustrator Amy Proud, inspired by her own childhood and her own work as a teaching assistant. The commissioning editor (who had studied English and Psychology and was very keen for children to have ‘real life’ and age appropriate problems in the stories), the editor and designer, all worked with us to create a book inspired by children in our own lives and memories. I am very proud of it and all the work so many people put in to it to make Amy's and my inspirations into a reality.
I do, however, still have feedback from children to work on which hasn’t yet been turned into books. To a certain extent authors and illustrators can have ideas and inspiration but they also need publishers to hear and trust the ideas, inspiration and feedback too. I know, for example, that there are boys out there, aged 5-8 who want to read and see themselves in the type of books which seem at the moment, to be marketed more at girls. It isn't only (some) girls who like sparkle and glitter and sweet cuddly animals, but it can be hard for even very little boys in our culture to admit this. Peer pressure hits in very quickly and very young, but it would be lovely if writers and illustrators and publishers could help those boys who are affected by it and work out a way to give them some more choice. I think we are rightly accepting more and more that girls need to see independent, brave, daring heroines in stories, but I also believe, from meeting and working with little boys aged 5-8, that there are more gentle magical stories with gentle heroes which need to be written. I am sure, because of feedback which I and other authors have received, (not always verbal - I have seen 5 year old boys look longingly at series books with glittery ‘girly’ covers and not have the courage to choose them) that there is a market for them, just as there are girls out there who don’t want to read those type of books and are dying to read more exciting adventure stories with brave, daring girls.
I sat down to write this blog post not sure if I had any ideas for a blog post, never mind new books. Writing this post and remembering the feedback from children I have met at schools and also conversations with other writers, has given me more ideas and I am dying to get back to writing new stories. In the end, however, like all writers, I have to hope and trust that there are publishers who will trust my inspiration and believe that these stories do indeed have readers waiting for them!