Dave Pigeon: one year on

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I’m knee-deep in a second round of edits for Dave Pigeon and here’s where I’m at:

 

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Since the last time I’d heard from my editor there had been a lot of thinking. A LOT. Everything I had changed from the original version I wanted to undo whilst still keeping the new plot I had developed, all the while updating the humour to keep it fresh. Oh and I quite wanted to change the entire writing device of the book.

And then there is the overwhelming fear that this book will one day actually be on shelves and people may actually read it. Or worse, not.

That’s why I’m glad for my agent. Mine doesn’t reassure me I’m not mad. Instead she does comfort me with the knowledge that every writer goes through this. We’re all mad! For the last few weeks, I’ve been glued to my desk, slashing away at my story and have bravely hit the ‘send’ button on my email with the latest version winging its way to my editor. Now I sit tight and pray to the writing gods that it will be well received.

This time last year I was finishing the first ever draft of Dave Pigeon, readying to send it in for the Greenhouse Funny Prize. I can’t help but feel butterflies for every writer out there who is in the same position this year.

Good luck to all the writers. Dave and I are crossing fingers and feathers for you.

Watch the birdie

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Yesterday my editor sent me a sample of work from a potential illustrator for Dave Pigeon. This is beyond exciting. Dave Pigeon will be an illustrated book and it’s so important the right illustrator is chosen because the pictures do as much telling of the story as the words.

It got me thinking about the importance of illustrations and illustrators themselves in storytelling. I joined Twitter (rather reluctantly) late last year. I convinced myself for all these years that it wasn’t for me but it turned out I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is a fantastic platform to get in touch with others who are as passionate about reading and writing children’s books as I am. In the few months I have been on Twitter a campaign to recognize the sterling job of illustrators has been
gaining momentum. The hashtag #PicturesMeanBusiness, spearheaded by children’s illustrator and writer Sarah McIntyre, aims to make sure that illustrators are fully credited for their work.

As children, before we are able to read, we make sense of stories in books with pictures. Even though my son is now reading, we often flick through his books together, piecing the story together with the pictures. It gets him hooked on the book before we’ve started reading the words.

And then there is our family favourite We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. I can’t tell you how many times we have read this. By the age of three, my son knew all the words by heart. I remember reading an article in The Guardian by Jenny Uglow saying that ‘when he wrote Bear Hunt, Rosen… said, he imagined a line of kings and queens setting out to hunt – but Oxenbury created an ordinary family, squelching through mud, tiptoeing into the cave, dashing back under the bedclothes. The final, wordless image, of the bear trotting by the sea, a lonely figure in the dusk, is all her own’. Some of the most wonderful bits of this book that we love so dearly as a family came almost solely from illustrator Helen Oxenbury.

The skill of an illustrator is to bring the words of the writer to life. It’s a partnership to do the best storytelling you can. I really can’t wait to work with an illustrator on Dave Pigeon. Dave is already primping his feathers ready for his photo call as we speak.

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Illustration by Sarah McIntyre

Happy World Book Day 2015

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After a furious three hours of sewing we have one Roly Poly Bird (from ‘The Twits’ by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake) to celebrate World Book Day. Thanks to a brilliant template and a lot of old t-shirts.

 

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You can find some brilliant costume and fundraising ideas from Book Aid International who work hard to get books to kids and improve literacy in sub-Saharan Africa.

However you celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful and creative day with your nose in a book!

 

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Up with the lark

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I’m up early this morning and freaking myself out. A few days ago I sent off the first redraft of Dave Pigeon to my editor and it just occurred to me that a few days ago I sent off the first redraft of Dave Pigeon to my editor.

Yikes!

So what to do in the mean time as my nails are chewed down to stubs in nervousness? Aside from refreshing my email every ten minutes and then emailing myself to make sure my inbox still receives mail competently?  My agent says whilst I wait I should write. My husband says I should write. My son says write. Everyone says write. Work on the sequel, work on something else, whatever it is, just write.

 

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This is easier said than done. I find I’m incapacitated to move on to new project whilst another remains unfinished. How do you write something new when worlds from your previous projects take up every inch of your mind?

As tough as it has been, the truth is to curb the nerves of waiting to hear back from my editor, I have had to move on to new project and write. This has involved tapping into the part of my brain that is exploding with ideas and mentally shelving the project sitting on my editor’s desk.

It has helped greatly to remove myself physically from the desk where I wrote Dave and move to a warm cafe to write my next book. I think the physical movement of office has helped to make space in my brain for new characters and new worlds.

How do you manage your writing projects whilst awaiting feedback?

International Book Giving Day 2015

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Get involved and give a book this Valentine’s Day. This year I’m joining in with an international book swap.

Exciting News Klaxon: I’ve been assigned a book pal in Germany! And I’m sending them a copy of the brilliant ‘The Art of Being Normal’ by Lisa Williamson.

 

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Happy Book Giving!

The idea egg hatches

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I’m not sure if you’d heard but next year my book ‘Dave Pigeon’ will be out. That’s right! My book! Out! Next year! Every time I say that I’m filled with what I can only describe as Christmas Day excitement, followed quite soon after by a sucker punch of dread as I question whether I can really do this.

This year I hope to blog my way through the journey, including all the ups (of which I hope there are many) and the downs (for which I will learn to master baking brownies).
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Today’s post is about the idea behind Dave Pigeon.

Since the news of the Faber book deal broke, the second most asked question has been ‘where did the idea come from?’ (The first being ‘what is your book about?’ When I figure that one out I’ll let you know.)

I have never really thought about where ideas come from. They just seem to be there. Or they turn up, like surprise guests, usually at highly inopportune moments: when I’m in the bath or on a walk or at 2 in the morning and the ability to jot them down coherently is severely lacking.

I can only imagine that the manner of generating ideas is quite organic; a mélange (love that word) of experiences, influenced by people, the world, the infiniteness of it all, mystically falling in line to produce an idea. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any logic in this process; and it certainly doesn’t seem to be an efficient way to produce work. I cannot tell you how many times I have panicked that an idea would not come to me and in some indescribable way it arrives just in time.

But Dave Pigeon was different. I do know how he came to be.

Around springtime last year, two pigeons plagued the husband’s car with pooey presents, on a number of Sundays that seemed to suggest more than coincidence. It is very possible that the pigeons in question were not the same two pigeons each week and that the deposits were made on days that were not in fact Sunday but every weekend for about a month the husband would hunt around the kitchen for a bucket and sponge, troubled by the same issue.

As the husband cursed his bad luck (every Sunday morning), the son and I discussed what it was we thought the pigeons were up to and in the process we named one of them Pat.

During our conversations I was inspired to pen the tale of Pat Pigeon. It was a horrendously boring first chapter about a pigeon rescued by a young boy. So dire that I deleted those first five hundred and six words almost as soon as they were tapped out on to the screen.  Even the name was horrendous. Who names a pigeon Pat?

And so came the idea for Dave. Firstly the name was much more fitting for a pigeon. Secondly the words seemed to flow easily for an idea I loved: the story of pigeon vengeance.

I’m not sure where you find your ideas, it would be wonderful to hear what inspires you. In the meantime have a brilliant 2015 filled with creativity and inventiveness and I’ll let you know how Dave gets on over the course of this next year.

Being happy

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December is on the horizon and the husband is hunting for the camera, as we ready ourselves for the annual Christmas card photograph.  The son is trying to coax Gary, his hamster, from out under the couch so I’ve retreated to my writing den to take a moment to look back on this year.

In June I entered the Greenhouse Funny Prize competition. I was shortlisted for the very same competition a couple of years ago. It was a scary thing to enter again. In the back of my head an annoying niggling thought kept resurfacing: if I didn’t make the shortlist this year would it mean I had regressed on my writing journey?

I put on my positive hat, shook off the feeling and wrote a story about a pigeon. It was terrible. It didn’t make me laugh and writing the first chapter felt like I was trudging through treacle. So I wrote a different story about a pigeon. I don’t know what the magic formula is for writing humour but if I make myself laugh that’s good enough for me.

And then the unimaginable happened.  I won.  I actually won the Greenhouse Funny Prize.  Even now I am in total shock and amazement as I write this.

What happened next has been four months of utter whirlwindizziness. Yup, I know that’s not a word but I don’t care because I only blooming won the Greenhouse Funny Prize! Polly Nolan signed me as a result and not a week later she told me that she would be talking to Faber and Faber about my book.

Over the last few months I signed my first book deal and met my lovely editor Alice Swan at Faber Children’s. I even started work on another idea, which shall remain top secret for the moment, but this whole process has been every bit the dream I hoped it would be.

It has been a magical year for my writing and I really cannot wait to see what the next year holds. Here’s a cheesy note to end on: I’m not sure anyone could see this happening for me, least of all me. Writing has been such a long time hobby that turning it into a career seemed impossible. On my journey I have grown to understand that the children’s publishing world is competitive and tough to break. I thought about giving up several times over the last few years but writing makes me happy. And now I’m here, I glad I pushed on because I can truly say it is a real privilege to be able to wake up everyday and do what makes me happy.

This post is dedicated to my husband and my son, my lovely boys, who go along with all my madcap ideas without question.

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Happy Diwali

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The son was in charge of rangoli this year and has produced a wonderful rangoli ‘Olaf’.

Happy Diwali to you all!

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Diversity

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I remember hitting thirteen-years-old, wanting to run away from home, grow a fringe, cut my hair short and move to Paris where I would paint and write and listen to Francois Hardy.  However, I was outraged to discover that my frizzy South Indian inherited locks would not allow for a shiny straight fringe in those pre-hair straightener days. I certainly didn’t have the time to learn the skill of blow drying when there was so much teenage angst to spill into my journals.

In hindsight, I wonder if I’d dreamed up a white-faced future for myself, even though my hair didn’t fit. And was that because I’d spent my childhood reading books filled with white-faced protagonists?  Not to say that such a future is only for people of a certain cultural background; it’s just that the choice of such futures was rather narrow.

In many ways we have come a long way since my childhood reading days.  I can honestly recall only one author, Jamila Gavin, and her Kamla and Kate books that dared feature a brown-faced girl on its cover.

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The conversation about the lack of diverse characters in children’s literature is hotting up.  It’s a topic close to my heart.  For me it’s a no-brainer, the diversity of characters in children’s literature is not representative of the diversity in society.  Children’s books have, to some respect, the added responsibility of educating the reader about the world.

We need diverse books.  Not just with characters of all ethnicities, but also characters that represent all sexualities, characters of all socioeconomic backgrounds, characters of all faiths, all cultures and characters of all abilities, both physical and mental.

My question is whose responsibility is it to write these stories?

I had an interesting conversation with a fellow author a couple of weeks back.  We were talking about this very same subject and she raised the question of the ‘right to write’.  It is something that has stayed with me since our conversation.

Does a Caucasian writer have the right to tell the stories of Indians? And vice versa? And is it the responsibility of writers from minority backgrounds to write diverse books?

There was a point before the summer where it was put to me that I should actively ‘support’ my ethnic background and write books which embraced diversity, because diversity was all the rage.  As a writer, there is nothing more stifling to creativity than to be told what to write.

For me it’s simply about the character. The character comes first, and the story comes from the character.

Ultimately, we all have the right to ask questions about the world and it is the responsibility of the writer to stay true to what they discover.  It is about being empathetic to the real situations that influence the fictional stories written and not about matching the face of the author to the characters of the book.

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