So first things first, tell me a little bit about yourself and your family?
We’re a multicultural family of four. My husband is English, I’m American and my two daughters are Yorkshire. I mean that in the nicest way as I love our home community in North Yorkshire. Long may they keep their local accents, though I’ve recently heard the occasional American twang creeping into my youngest daughter’s speech.
My wee lassies are 9 and 4 years old. I credit them with launching my career as a children’s book author, and they’re always eager to share ideas. They’ll say something they feel is clever and then quickly add, “Write that down, Mummy! It would make a great story.”
|Rebecca's Wee Lassies
What made you decide to write a children's book?
It had always been my dream to write and publish a book. I planned to write a travel memoir, but I never felt like I had enough time to write, so it never happened. Then I had kids and I definitely didn’t feel like I had enough time to write. Or so I thought.
It was after my eldest was born that I rediscovered children’s books. I fell in love with them all over again, particularly picture books. And picture books looked easy to write. They were short--less than 500 words each! How difficult could they be? Sharing these beautifully illustrated stories with my children, rekindled my dream to write a book. I would write a picture book.
If it hadn’t been for my children, I don’t think I would have considered writing children’s books. I have my girls to thank for helping me turn my dream into a reality.
Were there any struggles along the way?
Well, first of all, writing 500 word books isn’t as easy as it sounds. Every word must count, and you still have to write a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. Writing a good, concise story proved to be a huge challenge.
Finding time to write around a family and a job was also a big issue. But if you want to do something bad enough, you’ll make sacrifices. I spent many mornings getting up at 5am to write, before heading out to work. It’s amazing how much you can get done when no one else is awake and asking you questions like “What’s to eat?”, “Where’s the iPad?” and “Can you wipe my bottom?” (Or perhaps that only happens at my house.)
The biggest struggle was learning to be patient and accepting rejection as part of the writing life. It can take months to receive replies from editors and agents on whether or not they like your book. One time it took over a year, and that was precisely because they were interested. But then they ultimately rejected the book anyway. Decisions are rarely made quickly, and then they’re often rejections—especially when first starting out.
Looking back is there anything you wish you could have done differently?
Oh, yes! I hired an illustrator to illustrate my first book even though I had no intention of self-publishing it. This is a big no-no in the industry. Unless you, yourself, are an illustrator, you shouldn’t include illustrations with your book submission. If a publisher likes your book, they will find an illustrator themselves.
In hindsight, I realise I should have waited longer before submitting my work. I was eager to get published and began submitting books before I had honed my craft. The last thing you want to do is burn bridges with agents and editors by submitting too soon.
Are there any new books in the pipeline?
I have another book coming out in August 2015 with an imprint of Macmillan US. It’s a book about a witch parade entitled IT’S RAINING BATS AND FROGS. The main character, Delia, has been looking forward to flying in the parade but when rain threatens to spoil the fun, she changes the rain to cats and dogs. At first this goes over well, but then the animals cause problems. Delia later changes the rain to hats and clogs and finally to bats and frogs. But each new type of rain brings problems of its own. Eventually Delia finds just the right spell to save the day.
A lot of mums would love to work for themselves, especially writing their own book. What advice can you give them?
Read as many books as you can, so you know the format and word length of the type of book you’re writing, as well as what books are already out there. Then write as much as you can. Nothing helps develop your writing skills better than to write regularly.
Write books for the love of it, and not because you hope to make a career out of the venture. Very few writers are able to quit their day jobs.
Be patient. It’s tough breaking in, but if you’re patient and persevere, you stand a much better chance of getting your book published.
And lastly, don’t write in isolation. Although writing is a solitary job, seek out like-minded souls for support and advice. The best thing I ever did for my writing career was to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It’s an international organisation with branches all over the UK. They offer workshops, critique groups, conferences, grants, etc. You can learn more about SCBWI at britishisles.scbwi.org.