Monday, 8 February 2016

Inspiration for picture books with added features - by Moira Butterfield

Some picture books have extra features. Board books, of course, have many incarnations, but I’m going to concentrate on classic picture book pages here and provide some references that may perhaps help to inspire you to ideas of your own.

Here are examples what I mean by ‘extra features’.

Gatefolds – A gatefold is a page that has been made double the size and then folded back over on itself to make an extra-big flap. It can be diecut, which means that parts of the paper are cut away to create shapes.

Gatefolds can be both left and right, up at the top of a page or down at the bottom. My new picture book – I Saw A Shark – was written specifically to use a righthand gatefold on every spread. The story relies on the finding of a hidden surprise on every spread by extending the picture using a gatefold.

Diecutting – Ordinary pages can be diecut, which is the term for paper having shapes cut out of it. Pages might have holes in them so the reader can see through to other pages, or the paper edge can be cut to a new shape.

The classic example of a picture book with holes in it is Peepo, created by Janet and Alan Ahlberg in 1981 and reprinted ever since. The text prompts the reader to look through a hole in each page. Here’s a youtube version of Alan Ahlberg reading it and if you haven’t come across it before it before, you can see how it works from the video.  

Dos and don'ts - The trick to writing a story for a picture book with added features is to incorporate the features into the telling, so that playing with them is an integral part of the story. Peep-through holes and gatefolds lend themselves to elements of surprise in a story.

Revelling too much in the cleverness of the features and not providing a strong enough story is the trap to be wary of. I think illustrators in particular sometimes get carried away with the excitement of manipulating paper and think it’s enough to carry the whole book.

The right publisher - I was lucky with I Saw a Shark to find a publisher who specifically wanted to produce books with extra play value. If you have a story idea that relies on extra features you need to find the right publisher - one who has this type of book on their list and is prepared to invest in the extra paper costs and manufacturing costs involved.

Inspiration - If you’d like to venture down this route I suggest doing some research online and in your local bookshop, to find some examples that might inspire you. There are some interesting books around at the moment (especially in the USA) and luckily for us they tend to have presentation reels on youtube. I’ve added a few here to help you get started. I haven’t road-tested them with children, mind you, but they all have interesting features that might inspire you to something.

I say go for it if you have a good idea, and anyway it seems a valid creative exercise to sit down for an hour or two and play around with thoughts using some of these examples. It may lead you down unusual paths.

So...Here are some links to get you thinking. Have fun!

Beautiful Oops – by US musician Barney Satlzberg. There’s every kind of added feature in here to show you the art of the possible. 

There are No Cats in this Book – and others in the same series by Viviane Schwartz. Lots of fun. Uses extra features in a really entertaining way.

Flora the Flamingo – and others in the series by US artist Molly Idle.  There are no words, but it may inspire you because it so cleverly shows how paper can be used to change a scene (in this case flaps).

Moira Butterfield 

New picture books: 
I Saw a Shark - illustrated by Michael Emmerson - Published by Milly and Flynn 
Everybody Feels series - illustrated by Holly Sterling - Published by QED 

Monday, 1 February 2016

What's in a Name? by Natascha Biebow

I’ve been thinking about character
names . . .
Namely, if you can come up with a really unusual name for your character, people will remember it. They will remember that character’s personality traits, their unique story and maybe even use it in their everyday life. But you don’t want your character’s name to be too unusual so that it trips people up when they are reading the book aloud. Instead, the name should sound friendly, a little bit unusual and universal.

I took a look at my bookshelf:

There are names that alliterate:

Names chosen to go with a concept

Names that say ‘what they are on tin’:

Names that are fairly unusual:

And names that are quite ordinary, but that have become associated with extraordinary happenings and memorable personalities:

And then, there are the names that are really quite usual and sound just like that person:

 And fanciful names made up to make a rhyme:

And names – like DUCK, BEAR, MOUSE, PIGEON – that are really quite comfortingly familiar and instantly recognizable in the kind of story that is really everyone’s story:

Of all these names, these are my favourite ones:

They make me laugh and you can see who these characters are right away.

Which NAME you choose, depends entirely on the story you want to tell . . . 
What will it be? What are your favourites?

Natascha Biebow
Author, Editor and Mentor

Blue Elephant Storyshaping is an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission. Check out my NEW small group coaching courses!

Natascha is also the author of Elephants Never Forget and
Is This My Nose?,
editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Regional Advisor (Chair) of SCBWI British Isles.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

This is NOT a Happy Agent - James Catchpole

We'd like to welcome our guest blogger for this week, James Catchpole of The Catchpole Agency.

The Catchpole Agency which represents authors and illustrators of children’s books from picture books up to YA. James is the agent. Lucy prefers to keep her role mysterious.

New Agency Website

This is a story about a side of publishing authors probably prefer not to think about. It may have a moral, but if it does we don't know what it is. It may be a cautionary tale of sorts, we don’t know - we haven’t got to the end yet.

Sometimes an author has a really great idea, one that seems to spring almost fully formed, that makes you wonder "how hasn't this been done before?" Sometimes, that’s because it has. So as an agent, I check. This particular idea - we'll call it 'This is NOT a Happy Agent' for now, because using the real title would scupper any chance of a happy ending - had not been done before. It was 2012 and this was an original idea for a picture book text, with an original title - a title that ran through the thread of the story, a title that summed up the text and was repeated like a fabulous, memorable refrain. One you could imagine children chanting along with their parents.

Agents may be characterised as soulless money people, but don’t believe it - it is exciting when you see a text like this. And especially so when, as in this case, it was by an unpublished author (let’s call him, er… Dave) who I’d only just pulled from the submissions pile.

I thought this story could (nothing is sure in this business) break this young author. I read it to my wife. She was impressed. She is not easily impressed.

This is a Happy Agent

So I did what an agent does - I took this shiny new text around to all my best contacts. I took it to Bologna and read it out to all the major publishers. Sure enough, it was pretty damn popular. Some editors passed on it regretfully, others held on to it gleefully and passed it around the office - to their team, to Sales, to I don’t know who else. That’s the way this business works.

Reading this back in the context we’re now in, it seems strange to me that the industry does work this way. A new author, an original idea, and what do I do with it? I go and shout this original idea around the assorted editors of New York and London. But until this month, this way of working hasn’t ever seemed strange to me. This is just the way it is. The industry works on trust. It has to.

'This is NOT a Happy Agent' (ahem) was indeed bought - back in 2012 - by a big US publisher (hooray!). I was excited, the author was excited.

And then, for various reasons unrelated to the quality of the text, things kinda stalled. The editor who’d bought it moved elsewhere, the illustrators the new editor wanted weren’t available... Now, in 2016, they’re still looking for an illustrator. Frustrating, but not hugely surprising - it’s the way it goes sometimes - picture books can be a long game.

Skip forward to two weeks ago, when something odd happened. “Isn’t ‘This is NOT a Happy Agent’ one of Dave’s books?” my wife shouted through to me. Yes, so? “Then why is there a photo of a book on Twitter called 'This is NOT a Happy Agent', by someone else entirely?’ Oh.

A pile of books...

I had absolutely no idea. I knew this couldn’t be our author’s book. But sure enough there it was - a photo of an advance copy of a book with exactly the same title, but with another author’s name, sitting on Twitter. I know the editor who’d posted the picture well (she’s lovely btw). She works for a big London publisher - er..Goliath Kids UK? that'll do - which is actually the sister company of Dave’s publisher in the US.

So here it gets murky. Because as I said, I showed 'This is NOT a Happy Agent' to everyone. In fact, I’d read it out to Goliath Kids UK back in 2012, and discussed it with their editors a few times since.

So what had happened? A quick search told me that yes, Goliath were bringing out 'This is Not a Happy Agent' - by their own author (let’s call him John Smith) - in March. 6 weeks’ time as of writing.

I emailed the editor and her boss. They were clear: the title was not their author’s idea, it had come from within their own team. I suppose they didn’t want me to think their author might have plagiarised it somehow, from mine. This hadn’t crossed my mind – they’d never met, I’d checked. And anyway, much more logical to suppose it was Editorial’s idea, given they’d actually heard the title before.

I reminded them. They seemed to take it in their stride. So would they change their title? No.

To say this is frustrating is an understatement. Whether consciously or unconsciously, it’s more than likely that my author’s title was plagiarised by Goliath Kids UK. What’s worse 'This is Not a Happy Agent' seems in no way organic to their story. Their story is totally different to ours. Applied to theirs, it’s just a catchy title, whereas it runs through ours like words through a stick of rock.

But if Goliath go ahead and publish, Dave’s title will most likely have to change - can you really have two picture books with identical titles coming out within a year or two of each other? And in losing the title his story will lose a prime part of its cachet.

Dave has had other ideas since then, and after a couple of years of trying, late last year I suddenly sold four of his texts in as many months to two top London publishers. I’m sure it’s going to happen for him. But now I'm starting to wonder...the four texts I've just sold were seen by other publishers besides the ones who bought them. What's to stop their titles or their ideas being stolen before they come to be illustrated and published? How should I advise my author? What should we advise our many other authors, all of who rely on this same trust?

Perhaps this trust doesn't really exist. These are all good people we’re dealing with here, and we all know how easy it is to come up with someone else's idea while believing it's your own...But that's why you check. Perhaps there just aren’t any systems in place within publishers to stop things like this happening? And once they have - as in this case - it’s just handed over to Legal (watch this space…).

But can it really just be a question of whoever publishes first? That all feels rather Elizabethan. Or does it happen, and we just don’t hear about it? Am I breaking some unspoken rule of the industry in discussing this? (Maybe!) Do I need to guard my clients’ ideas more heavily in the future?

In that case, maybe all that will prevent a publisher from plagiarising is the threat of reputational damage? In which case, perhaps the best thing I can advise a new author to do is the most counter-intuitive. Should they actually go public? Should they blog and tweet about the titles they’ve sold, put it all out there on public record online? (Not unprecedented, these days...) Should they not rely on privacy and trust, but lay down a challenge: here are my ideas, here I am laying claim to them.

That could present a whole lot of new problems for the industry. But I suppose at least it would take a brave publisher to claim so publically an idea that wasn’t theirs in the first place.

Feedback appreciated! Comments can always be anonymous...

James and Lucy Catchpole

P.S If a picture book actually called 'This is NOT a Happy Agent' appears in the bookshops, you heard it here first - we will be cross.

Click here for aother guest blog post by James Catchpole.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Picture book wins the Newbery! by Malachy Doyle

Let's hear it for Matt de la Pena, Christian Robinson and Last Stop on Market Street. It's the first picture book in donkey's years to win the Newbery Medal, which is awarded to the author for the 'most distinguished contribution to American literature for children'.

Congratulations to Christian Robinson, the illustrator, for also getting a Caldecott Honor Award for the same book.

But picture books always win the Caldecott, because they're for 'the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children'...

Whereas picture books, as opposed to illustrated books for older children or longer works of fiction, winning the Newbery are as rare as hen's teeth. None this century till now, as far as I can see, and precious few before that.

So isn't it wonderful to see a book for 3-5 year olds beating all the big hitters of children's and young adult fiction just for once! Doesn't it give us in the picture book community, particularly us writers, one great lift!

I wonder will it ever happen in Britain?  Because the parallel prizes here (and similarly the most prestigious) are the Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway Awards.

The Greenaway goes to the 'outstanding book for children in terms of illustration'.  So, generally, picture books. And, until now, awarded only to the illustrator - though that's about to change due to the sterling work of Sarah McIntyre, who also successfully campaigned for the illustrators of nominated Carnegie books to be included in the Carnegie listing. 

Nevertheless - the Carnegie Award goes to the 'outstanding book for children.'  So couldn't that, just once in a blue moon, be a picture book for young children? But how many times has it been, in the eighty year history of the award? Never, unless I'm very much mistaken.

Are picture books not as good as longer books for older children, I wonder? Are they just not as well written? Can they only be outstanding 'in terms of illustration'? Not in terms of the writing, or in terms of both writing and illustration together?

Shouldn't it be possible that the 'outstanding book' of the year in Britain, at least once in a very blue moon, is one for young children, as it is on this occasion in America?  Shouldn't it be possible, in fact, that a picture book for young children could win both the Greenaway and the Carnegie (as A Monster Calls famously did, in 2012, for Patrick Ness and Jim Kay?) Now wouldn't that be something to celebrate?

Anyway, let's hear it for Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson! Let's hear it for picture books!

Monday, 11 January 2016

My Top Ten Writing Tips - Lynne Garner

I look back to when I was an aspiring author, smile and ask myself "how did I ever manage to get published?" Apart from being able to string a few words together I knew nothing about the business of becoming published. Yet somehow I managed to become a published picture book writer. However if I knew then what I know now my journey would have been a shorter one. So to reduce the length of your journey here are my top ten tips for writing a story a commissioning editor will hopefully love.

All about a little mouse missing his best friend


Listen to how children speak, what they talk about, the worries they have etc. All of this can be used to fuel your work and ensure you're writing stories children will enjoy and relate to. 


If you get the chance to study poetry, even a short workshop, then go for it. A picture book writer can learn a lot from studying poetry and use that knowledge to add that little extra to their stories.


When writing be aware of your audience and use appropriate words. Don't use 'grown up' or long words when short will do. 


Learn from published authors by reading, reading and reading some more. As you read question how the author has constructed the story, how they make you want to turn the pages, how they use words etc. 


Break down your story into spreads and think of them as scenes in a play. Ask yourself is there something new happening on every page? Have you given the illustrator something to work with? Does the new scene move the story forward? If the answer to any of these is no then you need to have a rethink.


Get your characters talking as soon as possible. Let them tell the story in their own words. It is there story after all.

Focuses on smell in a humorous way  

Try using repetition in your story. Repetition provides a hook, something for your readers to listen out for, to anticipate. Repetition allows them to join in with the story and become part of your characters journey.


Try to include the five senses in your descriptions. What does something smell like, feel like, sound like, look like and taste like? This will allow your reader to connect with the action on the page.


Everyone loves to laugh, so if appropriate include a little humour. This can be in your use of words, the illustrations or perhaps even both.


Have a go at using the magic number three in your story. Think Goldilocks and The Three Bears, The Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Three Little Pigs.  

I hope these tips help and good luck with your writing. If you're a published author and you have your own tips please do add them to the comments below.   


Now for a blatant plug - don't say I didn't warn you:

My latest short story collection - Coyote Tales Retold is now available on Amazon in ebook format. Also available Meet The Tricksters a collection of 18 short stories featuring Anansi the Trickster Spider, Brer Rabbit and Coyote - available as a paper back and an ebook.

I run the following online courses for Women On Writing:
How to write A children's book and get published
5 picture books in 5 weeks
How to write a hobby-based how to book

Monday, 4 January 2016

People are watching. Look busy.

by Michelle Robinson

I met up with two writer friends before Christmas for our No Office Christmas Party. Of course we talked shop, and all three of us admitted to not being entirely comfortable with the 'online author platform' thing.

Which of our books should we promote? When should we do it? How often? And how can we do it without looking like wazzocks? But - and I'm a little ashamed to admit it - our main gripe was with having to see what everyone else in the industry is up to. We each confessed to having abandoned the internet entirely at times in order to avoid a confidence battering. Don't know what I mean? Allow me to set the scene...

You're having a Bad Writing Day. 

Nothing's flowing so instead of wasting an entire day you decide to attend to your online admin - best show your publishers that you're doing something to buffer all their hard work. Maybe you'll tweet a link to pre-order your next title or share some event photos on Facebook, just a little something to stoke the fire. While you're at it you'll see how everyone else is doing. This is research. This is proactive. This is a good use of time...

...This is not what you needed to see right now.

Everyone and their uncle's cousin’s next door neighbour’s dog walker is busy signing a new book deal, erecting a writing den in the grounds of their manor house, throwing a launch party attended by the literati, selling film rights to Hollywood or collecting the Nobel Prize for Pre-School Literature. Your Bad Writing Day has turned into a Complete Confidence Clobberer (let's call it and anyone who adds to it a CCC) - and it's all thanks to your 'essential' flippin' platform.

*Sulky face* 

The internet is so unfair
How come everyone else is in sequins when you're sitting at home wearing odd socks? Are you the only published author who still gets rejected? When will your editor send you flowers just to tell you that you're marvellous? How come no minor celebrities are tweeting selfies with your book? And why, when you're so good at creating a healthy mix of self promotional tweets and silly cat pictures, do you not have three hundred thousand followers? Hang on a minute.

This is the internet. 
Everything is edited. 

As book creators we should know this better than anybody, and yet sometimes we all fall for a bit of smoke and mirrors. 

You want to know how those CCCs whose book you’ve never even heard of have umpteen followers? They bought them. Ever wonder how every other author has a 'bestseller' under their belt? They don't. They call their book ‘bestselling’ because it's the one that sells the best - ten copies out of the box in the garage as opposed to five from the boot of the car.

On the internet, we can make any impression we want. 

We can appear carefree and successful when we’re close to admitting defeat and applying for a job at ASDA. By cropping a photo we can let people assume hoards of people came to our event when in fact only two did, and they were immediate family. We can make it look like we're busy promoting our titles left, right and centre when we're actually busy dreaming up the next one - a far more important job, in truth. But we shouldn't turn our backs on the internet just because we're having a bad day. The internet is our friend. 

And our internet friends are our friends.

Yes, we're notoriously sensitive souls and it's true that working in isolation can knock our confidence. But in spite of my occasional gripes I find maintaining an online presence overwhelmingly positive. It connects me with the wider children's book community and creates an Almost Office. I genuinely enjoy seeing my friends and colleagues succeed. It's exciting. I know how hard it is to do well at this game, I want to high five other authors way more often than I want to give them Chinese burns.

Seeing others succeed appeals to my competitive side. If someone else is doing well, I want to be doing better. Still, I'm happy to admit that I'm not so keen on the CCCs: those who self promote like its going out of fashion, who have only one drum to bang and don't know when to stop banging it. So here's my trick: I don't follow them. They won't mind. For every follower they lose they'll buy another two thousand.

Nobody has a Big Bookish Success Day every day of the week. 

In the picture book world we’re extremely lucky if we have a truly great news day once a quarter or even once a year. Anybody that looks to be doing much better is either a CCC, is extremely skilled at stringing out their successes or else they’re Julia Donaldson (who, by the way, has almost no online presence and doesn't seem to be doing too badly for it, either). 

What do you think? Do you find CCCs intimidating - or are you one of them?! Do you have enough faith in your own work to never let it bother you? Do you manage to work in blinkers and shrug it all off? Has Julia Donaldson got the right idea, or does she just have far more support from marketing departments than the rest of us? And what tricks do you use to bolster online self promotion? For what it's worth, here are a few of my tricks for looking busy online:-

  • If all your good news comes at once, store some up to release on days when nothing is happening.
  • Stagger reports of events and school visits to cover a greater period of time.
  • If you want to go internet-free for a time while still maintaining an online presence, write draft posts in advance and set auto-publication dates for the future (particularly helpful with known events such as publication dates, World Book Day, National Libraries Day, etc.).
  • Amplify your message by jumping on relevant trending hashtags (if it's #WorldPenguinDay and you have a book about penguins, shout about it using the hashtag).
And finally, 
  • Congratulate your online friends on their successes because one day soon it'll be you who has genuinely great news to share

Michelle Robinson has a new book out on January 7th 2016 and she is more than happy to shout about it all over the internet. 'Odd Socks' is illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown and published by Andersen Press.

For more about Michelle: 

Monday, 28 December 2015

Most Inspiring/Helpful Advice I've Received From An Editor or Agent - Group Post

As this is the last post of 2015 we decided to share some of the most inspiring and helpful advice we've received. We hope you find it useful and if you've received any useful advice please feel free to share in the comments. 

Keep it global - Lynne Garner

I was once advised by an editor to think globally whilst writing a story. By this my editor meant unless the setting is an important element of the story then try not to include festivals, celebrations or holidays that are only enjoyed by one country or religion. This hopefully means your publisher can sell your book to a sub-publisher without making huge changes to your story. I followed her advice whilst writing A Book For Bramble" and made the celebrations Teasel enjoyed ones that were linked to the seasons. As you can see from the attached cover her advice worked and the book was translated into other languages, resulting in increased royalty payments for me.

Don't rush - Moira Butterfield 

When I was a young editor I was very gung-ho and wanted to do everything quickly. My boss, Jenny Tyler at Usborne, told me 'more haste, less speed', and I've never forgotten it either as an editor or as an author. I do tend to rush things by nature and have to rein myself in. It's important to leave text to marinade - even if you only have a limited time schedule. Give it space. Put it away for a day or two and then go back to it. Don't send it off to anyone until you are sure it's fully formed. That means reining in your initial excitement about it and not jumping the gun.

A spread from I Saw a Shark, illustrated by Michael Emmerson, out at the end of 2015.
I kept this text to myself for ages, tinkering
with it and not giving myself any pressure. 

Focus on your strengths - Jonathan Emmett
The most valuable piece of advice I’ve been given came from my agent Caroline Walsh when I was just starting out in children’s publishing. I’d intended to be an author-illustrator and many of my early projects were both written and illustrated (and sometimes paper-engineered) by me, but there was little interest from publishers. Caroline explained that there were plenty of illustrators who could produce good picture book illustrations, but not many authors that could write good picture book texts. Caroline told me that I could write good texts, so if I wanted to make a living out of picture books, I should focus on the writing. I followed her advice and I've been making a living as a picture book author ever since!

One of my early illustrations for the my picture book story Fox's New Coat,
which was eventually published with illustrations by Penny Ives.

Be prepared to change - Jane Clarke

When PictureBook Den's Natascha was an editor at Random House, she asked me to change a character in Knight Time from Mummy to Daddy - and it's a much better book because of it- thanks, Natascha!

Fab illustrations to the finished book by Jane Massey -and a very scruffy alteration to the original text by me: 

Have fun! - Paeony Lewis

Alex Bear and Baby Pog having fun in I'll Always Love You,
by Paeony Lewis, illus by Penny Ives
Long ago I sent three stories to an agent for children's books. Although this particular agent didn't take me on, she replied with comments. One comment in particular has always stuck in my head and it was simply to have more fun in my writing. So even now, when I've finished the draft of a picture book text, I'll read it and ask myself if  I've included enough fun. I appreciate that not all picture books are 'fun', but almost all include humour, even if it's subtle. For me it was simple, great advice.

Read it aloud in a different accent - Michelle Robinson

Don't assume your rhyming text rhymes in every tongue just because it does in yours (e.g. 'again' and 'rain'), and definitely don't cheat and tell yourself a near-rhyme will do the job because it almost certainly won't. I can't remember who gave me this advice now so I don't know who to credit - but it's something I still need to remind myself to do as it's not something that comes naturally. I also kind of wish I'd avoided ending lines with nouns in 'Elephant's Pyjamas' as having to switch words to their non-rhyming American equivalents (e.g. 'jimjams' became 'jammies') made doing the U.S. edit rather tricky.

We hope sharing the above will help and inspire you. We also hope that 2016 brings you all you wish for.

With our very best regards,

Everyone at the Picture Book Den

Monday, 21 December 2015

And the moral of the story is… don’t write it for the moral. If you write a challenging picture book, do it because that specific story is the story you most want to tell right now and because you can tell it brilliantly. Oh, and (nearly) happy new year, by Juliet Clare Bell

I can't wait to read this book...

                                                (c) Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith

Sometimes you read a blog post that feels like it was written just for you. This is how I feel about Brainpickings’ The Best Children’s Books of 2015, which I read earlier today –three times in a row, just to make sure all the recommended books look as enticing as they did first (and then second) time round… (and yes, they did).

Apart from the first, and second-from-last book, on their list, I’d never even heard of any of these 2015 picture books. But if I were to write a Christmas list for myself, those nine books I’d not heard of until today now would be the nine things on my list. This is a time of year for sharing so I would love to share this blog post with you and all its beautiful books, it’s such a treat.

Read it, read it now! Aren’t they beautiful?

This is going to be a short post as I mostly just want to share some beautiful picture books with you through the Brainpickings’ blog and these aren’t the most readily available books to buy in the UK so you may not have seen some of them, either…

I would like, though, to say how they’ve struck a real chord with where I am at the moment in my writing and in my life. The last few years have been at times quite personally challenging, but I feel that the changes in our lives have awakened something in me that has been lying dormant for a long time. I feel more excited about writing than I have for a long time and I’ve found that what I’m writing and what I’m thinking about and planning on writing next is quite different from what I was writing before. And it is definitely more challenging. But not because I’ve decided to write things differently. I am more engaged with what’s going on in the community, locally and globally, and that’s what I’m thinking about so it’s seeping into what I write.

I doubt that the beautiful books on the Brainpickings list have come about by authors and author-illustrators deciding that they’re ‘going to write a challenging book’. I don’t expect that Olivier Tallec randomly decided that he would like to create a picture book that has echoes of a psychology experiment from the early seventies by Philip Zimbardo, and then went ahead and wrote Louis I, King of the Sheep. I suspect that he came up with a great story that he was telling in the best way he could, and that it contains an underlying truth because he's telling it right and not trying to moralise.


                                                                      (c) Olivier Tallac (2015)

It doesn’t take much to draw parallels between the prison guard experiment where Zimbardo told some students they’d be prison guards and others that they’d be prisoners (with shocking consequences: see footage from the experiment here) and things that are happening throughout the world at the moment. Only last week I was talking with another writer about the very same experiment in relation to something that I’m writing at the moment. But although I’ve always been fascinated by this and Milgram's experiment (see Peter Gabriel's song, We Do What We're Told, written about the experiment, with chilling footage from the experiment -I was a developmental psychologist for years before I had children and started writing for children), it’s only now –with the current media manipulation in the UK at a terrifying level- that I’ve found it sneaking into elements of a story I’m writing.

I could talk about why I’m excited about each of those books, but I won’t as you can read about them for yourselves in the lovely blogpost. What I’ll end with, though, is the idea of being true to yourself as a writer. In Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess and Kris Di Giacomo (the one book on their 2015 list that I actually have), they quote E E Cummings:

                                             (c) Mark Burgess and Kris di Giacomo (2015)

A writing friend once talked about working towards making your picture book undeniable. I think that we need to 'become who we really are' fully for that to happen. I feel like these writers have probably got there. I’m not there yet but that is what I’d like to work towards in 2016… So a toast to 2016: let it be the year where we become fully who we are (for those of us who are not quite there yet) and then write wholly as ourselves. And let’s support each other to have that courage. I think there are some incredible books waiting to be created…  and in the current climate, these books are needed more than ever. Let’s get being… and writing, truly authentically…

To a more peaceful, safe and loving 2016...

Do you feel like you have become who you really are and that you are writing wholly as youtself? Do you have tips for others who aren't there yet? And if you're not there yet, what would help you get there?

Juliet Clare Bell's latest picture book, The Unstoppable Maggie McGee (illustrated by Dave Gray) has raised over £36,000 in book sales so far (all £6 goes to charity), for Birmingham Children's Hospital's Magnolia House Appeal. Her next book: Two Brothers and a Chocolate Factory: The Remarkable Story of Richard and George Cadbury (illustrated by Jess Mikhail) is out in March, 2016. And she's very excited about the stories she's currently working on.