Cooking Up A Picture Book

Picture Book Recipe

1 Take one sheep, one goat and a creaking gate. Allow idea to seep over night (Over month. Over year. Required period may vary)
2 Mix until ingredients firmly combined
3 Spread until 32 pages are lightly covered.
4 Sprinkle liberally with brightly coloured illustrations
5 Picture book is ready for consumption

If only it was that easy to put a picture book concept together.

Today I am excited to be part of Claire Saxby’s Blog Tour for her latest release, Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate. It’s a book where the first interview question asks itself:-

1 Where did the title come from?
I played around with a few titles, and individual names for the characters, but they were determined to be called ‘Sheep’ and ‘Goat’. The creaking gate was there probably before the characters even arrived. I liked the notion of Sheep and Goat living side-by-side until they realised there was a world beyond their paddock…and it had a gate. When it came to devising the title, the two characters and the gate insisted on being there! What could I do?

2 How long did it take before you felt the text was ready to be submitted to an editor?
Ooh, that’s a ‘how long is a piece of string’ kinda thing. It’s impossible to quantify. I do know that I had to write a draft, tweak, then rest the manuscript several times before it was ready. Even then, I put it aside for a few weeks to make sure. It was months and months. This story had two prior outings, (one in The School Mag and on an online story site) before it was accepted as a picture book. I reworked it after each outing. Because it’s now a picture book – as I originally envisaged it – I had to change its form again and reduce description before submitting it. It was probably about 6-7 years from first draft to release.

3 Did the idea or the text change very much during the editorial process?
The idea was unchanged, but the text was shortened after acceptance, clearing out unnecessary words. I probably cut about 1/5 of the text I think. And the story is better for it.

4 How well do the pictures in the book match the pictures in your head?
I have no pictures in my head, only voices and actions. I can hear the story and the characters interacting but I have no idea what they look like! None at all. I’m looking out through their eyes and unless it’s relevant to the plot, I don’t think about their appearance. To me it doesn’t matter. So it’s always a great surprise to see the illustrator’s images.

5 Did you have any input into the illustration process?
Judith Rossell talked to me about the style she was going to use with Sheep, Goat. She saw them as cartoon-y and that fit well with the text. She also spoke about some of the other techniques she might use in bringing the story to life. There are little hole punch holes from a botany text littering the grass and the food trough and gate also feature bits from the text. There are also small leaves and bits on the grassy bits. So I was aware of what she was going to do, but I didn’t really have any input beyond being a sounding board. I saw roughs and a colour spread, then the artwork, then the proofs. At proof stage, both Jude and I had suggestions for tweaking the presentation.

6 Who was the first person (other than yourself) to hear the book read aloud?
I was doing a series of workshops at a Melbourne school and took along the proofs, just in case I had time after the workshops. I did. I enlisted a student to help me hold the proofs as I read, because it’s tricky to turn the pages and keep track! It was well-received and they were thrilled to be seeing the book before its release.

7 How important are picture books to you as an author and a reader?
I love picture books! I have a large and growing collection made up of books from my childhood, books my sons used to read and new books. I visit the local kinder every fortnight and read to the children. I take a mixture of old and new books in a variety of styles and always have an interested and attentive audience. One recent favourite of mine (One Dragon’s Dream by Peter Pavey, Walker Books) is a re-release of a title first published in 1978. Picture books are a wonderful entrance point to the magic of words, to literacy, but also to the world.

To find out more about Claire, the sheep, the gate, the creaking gate and her other books visit her website or her blog Lets Have Words

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4 responses to “Cooking Up A Picture Book”

  1. Claire says:

    Hi Sandy,

    It’s lovely to be here, thanks for hosting me. I’m enjoying seeing Sheep and Goat take their first steps in the book world.


  2. Belka says:

    Hi Sandy and Claire,
    I found this post most delightful. I really loved the feeling of trust and interaction between yourself as writer, Claire and Judith as illustrator that emerged in your description of the process.
    These blog journeys are such a great way to see ‘beyond’ words and pictures.


  3. 6-7 years! Phew, I will stop being so impatient!

    Loved this, Claire: “Picture books are a wonderful entrance point to the magic of words, to literacy, but also to the world.”

  4. Dee White says:

    Thanks Sandy and Claire, I’d never thought of writing as being like a recipe…and you just add all the essential ingredients.

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