The Croc and the Platypus Blog Tour

Every writer I’ve met (and that’s heaps) secretly wants to write a picture book (including me). I think it’s something to do with the magic of distilling a story into a small number of perfect words and then having an illustrator perform even more magic on them.
Recently at SCBWI ANZ Conference 2014 I attended an In Conversation session about the creative process for a new Walker Books Australia picture book, TheCroc and the Platypus. The session featured Jackie Hosking (author), Marjorie Crosby-Fairall (illustrator) and Sue Whiting (editor). After the session was over, I wanted to know more. So I am particularly pleased to be a stop on the Croc and Platypus blog tour and to have the chance to ask Jackie and Marjorie some questions of my own.

Jackie, we hear all the time that rhyming picture books are incredibly difficult to write although you obviously have a talent for it.

Was there a portion of text that you had to work extra hard at?

The difficult thing about writing in rhyme is refusing to compromise on the right word to suit the rhyme or the meter.
 In the first line of the second verse – there are three verses in all, I compromised, and while the whole story was accepted by Walker Books, that line wasn’t. What was interesting is that I didn’t like that line either. Here’s how the original line looked…
Platy said with a smile, to the cool Crocodile
“I have an idea to present….
No one calls a platypus, Platy, it sounds forced. One suggestion was to change the animal from a Platypus to something else. This was not acceptable to me; it had to be a platypus as it represented the soft pussy-cat character from The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.  I didn’t voice my concern at the time because I knew with some effort, I could fix it. And I did. The line now reads…
The platypus smiled, saying after a while,
“I have an idea to present…
The perfectionist in me struggled a bit with the fact the ‘smiled’ and ‘while’ are not perfect rhymes but I had to let that go because that was a very small sacrifice to make and it allowed me to keep the platypus in the story.
Was there a portion that just fell into place? Why do you think this happened?
The first verse is pretty much unchanged from the original though I did modify one line. This changed from…
And packed it all up in the boot
And bundled it up in the boot
‘Bundled’ is a stronger verb, more descriptive and it allowed me to get rid of the word ‘all’ and as an added bonus it complimented the word ‘trundled’ which is found at the beginning of the poem.
I’m not sure why it fell into place so easily. I think having The Owl and the Pussy-Cat as a template forced my hand into choosing particular words. I really wanted to emulate Lear’s rhyme and meter with no compromise, easier said than done! At the most basic level, for instance, the animals had to have names consisting of one and three syllables respectively. And the three syllable name had to have the stress fall on the first syllable. An echidna, for example would not fit the meter as the stress falls on the middle syllable which would not do at all.
How long did you spend working on this book from first word to submission?
I wrote the first draft in early 2011 and sent it to Walker in May of that year. In 2012 I was awarded a Maurice Saxby Mentorship where I was able to utilise the wisdom of many experienced professional. During that time I worked on The Croc and the Platypus and as a result improved it. I sent the improved version to Walker in May 2012 so in a way I have two submission dates.
What research did you need to do for this book?
Well I obviously needed to know The Owl and the Pussy-Cat inside out and I also wanted to include as many Australian icons as I could, given the brevity of the poem.
As I’ve used Uluru as the camping spot I was interested to know its meaning. This is included in the glossary at the back of the book along with a description of the other Australian icons mentioned in the story, things that non-Australians may not be familiar with.
Marjorie, Was there a portion of text that immediately visually appealed to you? 
Well, Sue Whiting from Walker Books asked me to present a rough sketch for one spread to make sure we were all “on the same page” before I launched into creating the storyboard roughs for the entire book. She suggested the text:
They barbecued fish, their favourite dish,
Then gobbled some lamingtons too.
This text was immediately appealing and ideas sprang to mind very easily. I could readily imagine two fat and happy friends lounging around by a campfire as the sun was setting. In fact, the rough didn’t change much from my very first scribbles—the only change was the addition of the fleece tent. I originally had the fleece still rolled up as they had received it from the shearers.
At the time same time I sent Walker the rough for the following spread:
And under the gloss of the bright Southern Cross
They danced beside Uluru…luru,
They danced beside Uluru.

This was another idea which popped into my head fully formed and didn’t change at all from the first rough. I remember I was cooking dinner when I had the idea of how the Croc and the Platypus would dance, I ran into my studio and jotted it down in my notebook, and ran back out before dinner burned!

Do you do the illustrations in story order?
I’m pretty systematic when I work. I chip away until I have thumbnail sketches for the layouts of all the spreads. When I move on to the next stage—storyboard roughs—I DO often get the easier spreads out of the way first. By the time the final roughs are finished, I usually have a pretty good idea of where I’m going with the illustrations so I can illustrate out of order.
With The Croc and the Platypus, the first finished artwork was the spread where the shearer meets the Croc and the Platypus. Donna Rawlins, the art director at Walker Books, had asked me fairly early on to send her one colour spread so she could see what I had in mind for the final style. I chose this spread because it had the main characters, a human figure, and very importantly it was a good sample for showing the colour palette. The story occurs throughout one day, so the lighting and colours need to change to reflect that change in time. This spread is midway thorough the day so the colours are a sort of “base point”—the earlier colours are a bit “cooler” and lighter and the later colours a bit “hotter” and darker. But, hey, maybe I’m the only one who notices that!
Was there a portion of text that you found more challenging to illustrate?
Initially, the more difficult spreads were anything to do with the Ute! I’m not exactly a “car person” so I didn’t have an intuitive response . However, once I found a Holden Ute I liked, it almost became another character with a personality so I found it much easier to draw.
What research did you need to do for this book?
There was actually a lot of research required. I had to find out about Holden Utes, Crocs and Platypus, Sheep, Outback landscape colours and vegetation and many other things. Of course I’m not trying to represent any of these things realistically, but it all goes into the stew and informs the final work.
Thanks for dropping by, Jackie and Marjorie. I wasn’t surprised to hear how much work goes into a picture book. I know from experience how hard those few words are. Much harder if they have to rhyme. But I was surprised at the research involved. As author of historical fiction, research is a familiar part of my writing process. I had no appreciation of how much research, by both the author and illustrator, can go into a picture book.

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3 responses to “The Croc and the Platypus Blog Tour”

  1. Dale says:

    Loved hearing more about this fun book. Thanks Sandy, Jackie and Marjorie.

  2. Thank you for this post. A fascinating insight into a truly wonderful book.

  3. sandy says:

    It’s a wonderful book. So hard to do rhyme so well. I was surprised to see a comment on such an old post – imported from my old blog and never tidied up for ‘visitors’. I checked out your blog and website. Beautiful illustrations. And not at all messy like this post!

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