Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Drafting a picture Book

How do you cuddle a puggle? Very carefully.

Today I have a puggle on my blog.
I’ve been excitedly waiting for this moment for weeks and he is finally here. Would you like to see him? He’s cute and small and simply irresistible.
Here he is.

What is a puggle you ask? It’s a baby echidna, an Australian native animal from the monotreme family.

This little puggle is here visiting me in celebration of the launch of Catriona Hoy’s delightful new picture book ‘Puggle’, published by Working Title Press.

It tells the story of a baby echidna whose mother dies when hit by a car. With Catriona’s gentle words and wonderful illustrations by Andrew Plant we follow Puggle’s journey towards a happy outcome.

I’ve been just itching to ask Catriona about the process of creating a picture book; where to start when the idea comes into your mind and how to shape it into the required picture book format once the idea has formulated and the first draft of words are on the paper.

Fortunately for me I also have Catriona visiting my blog today as part of her Puggle blog tour.

Hi Angela!

Hi Cat! Glad you could make it.

From following your blog tour I discovered Puggle is a story from real life. When you sat down to write the first draft, was it the character of Puggle or the plot which inspired you initially?

Puggle began with the character. A gorgeous, helpless, blind little creature which looked like a chicken fillet. I wanted to write his story and there was lots of factual information but I knew that I had to weave it into a readable story. While Puggle was cute, things had to actually happen to move the story forward. I walked around with the first sentence in my head for about six months, wondering when the rest of the story would come. ..And ironically that first sentence ended up being dropped!

What form did this first draft take? eg notes/ mind map/ poem/ prose/ scribbles on a serviette.

I have actually written stories on many scaps of paper. I wrote my next book on pieces of supermarket dockets and bits of tissue box as we drove on a holiday to Ireland, through Wales. However, Puggle was different in that I knew that to be true to the story I had to get it factually correct. So there was a fair bit of research to do before I sat down to write the story. I developed a time line of stages in Puggle's life and went from there.

How did you develop the text of `Puggle' to fit the 32 page picture book format? Did it need lengthening or shortening? If lengthening, how did you achieve this?
Now that I'm more experienced, I have that 16 openings thing in the back of my head as I'm writing. Rather than work on what goes on each page, which can actually change quite a lot, I tend to focus on whether, in my own mind, I have at least 16 or so visuals. So I tried to structure the material into this framework. It was a more laboured story than some of my others.

Did you use any visual editing aids such as a storyboard or a dummy book? How did they help?

I'm not a big one for visual aids, I'm not a very visual person...but I'm getting better. Words are my thing. I tend to write my story and then try to see where the images are and rule a line at these point, and put suggested illustrations in the margins. I don't necessarily send these to the illustrator or publisher. In fact I didn't for Puggle. Often the illustrator will make these natural breaks themselves.

Once the words are on paper, the self-editing begins. With picture books every word counts, but with `Puggle' how did you decide what stayed and what was cut?

When I'm in the final stages, I read it out aloud a lot. I like the words to sound well together. Picture story books are mostly read out loud after all. I also checked the accuracy of particular words with experts. Writing magazine articles has taught me to be really disciplined, especially with articles with word counts of 200 words. With Puggle I had the advantage of being able to put additional information into a fact page about echidnas. So I didn't feel I was losing anything important. This fact page eventually became the endpapers of the book.

The placement of the page break can create page-turning suspense and heighten tension and curiosity. How did you choose where the page turns would be? Or did the illustrator?

Different editors and publishers have different thought on whether to include illustrator notes. I find that I'm being asked to add them more and more. However I didn't add these notes for Andrew, or the page breaks. Andrew requested these from Jane and she worked on those with him. If I have particular concepts or ideas in mind, I'll make these suggestions. The text was jiggled around a bit to allow for illustrations to flow and to show the passage of time.

Once the manuscript was contracted to a publisher, what happened next? Did you have any contact with the illustrator?

Jane asked me whether I had anyone in mind for illustrations and I suggested Andrew Plant. I had seen some of his non fiction work and he had captured the imagination of my year 9 students some time ago, when I'd hired him to give a talk on dinosaurs. He is a really entertaining presenter. At that stage I was also working on a story about dinosaurs and thought that I'd like to work with him one day.

Andrew has a background in zoology and for me it was important that the illustrations were accurate. I had confidence that Andrew would do a fantastic job. At first Andrew was hesitant as often illustrators who do animals don't do humans...something I hadn't realised before. Jane, Andrew and I discussed this and that is one of the reasons that we never see much of the humans in the story, merely as a pair of hands.

Although I was overseas at the time, I was able to have a long chat with Andrew as I interviewed him for Explore. And of course I was consulted at every stage of the illustration process and asked for my input and opinion. Which often wasn't much more than 'wow that's great!'

I've just signed a contract to work with Andrew on another book with WTP...this time it's the one about dinosaurs and we had a successful book launch at the South Yarra library. So we keep in touch although he is very busy.

Thank you so much, Cat. It's been a pleasure hosting you on my blog. I now better understand the whole process of producing a picture book from start to finish. And your experiences have been fascinating.

Thanks for having me Angela, it's been lovely chatting. I'm actually having to think hard about the way I write and it's been quite eye opening for me.

You're welcome, Cat. Good luck with the dinosaur book.

For anyone who missed part of Catriona's Puggle Blog Tour, here are the dates and addresses below:

April 12 http://scribblygum.wordpress.com/

April 13 http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/

April 14 http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com/

April 15 http://www.letshavewords.blogspot.com/

April 16 http://orangedale.livejournal.com/

April 17 http://sherylgwyther.wordpress.com/

April 18 http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com/

April 19 http://katswhiskers.wordpress.com/

April 20 http://belka37.blogspot.com/

April 21 http://angelasunde.blogspot.com/

April 22 http://trudietrewin.com/blog-ramblings/


Catriona Hoy said...

Hi Angela, enjoyed our chat. I've been amazed at the great range of questions people have asked. Thanks for having me.

Anonymous said...

Yes, this was a very interesting conversation between you two. And a helpful insight into the actual writing and setting out of a picture book. Thank you to both of you! :)

Angela Sunde. said...

You're welcome, Cat.
Thanks, Sheryl.
I've been enjoying the whole tour and have learnt so much about echidnas.
I first saw 'Puggle' for sale in a 5 storey bookstore in Auckland, NZ, in early April. They had displayed it prominently near the main door together with the winners of the NZ Post Book Awards. I'm sure Puggle will be a big hit this year and feature in many awards.
Congratulations on the launch!

Tina C said...

Hey Angela and hello again Cat

Angela - thanks for having Cat visit today.

The great thing of this blog tour is that I have learned something new each day.

Today I am particularly interested to learn that you were able to recommend your illustrator - and that you got to use him. That is amazing. From conferences, talks and networking with other writers and illustrators this doesn't appear to be a common occurrence, and yet the two of you appear to work really well together and produced not only this beautiful book, but also another on dinosaurs - another to add to my growing pile of keeper books!

Congrats Cat!

And thanks again Angela for your visitor today.

Bye 4 now

Belka said...

This interview was magic. Thank you Angela and Catriona for providing such a refreshing perspective on drafting a picture book.

Catriona Hoy said...

Hi all and thanks for leaving a comment. Tina, with regards to choosing an illustrator, your previous advice is for a large part correct. Different editors and publishers work differently. With some you feel very involved in the creation of the work; whereas others consider it out of your hands once you've signed off on the text. I've worked with four editors/publishers thus far. Two of them asked for input. I think that's also something that comes with experience and developing a realtionship with your editor.

Wow, the end it in sight...just Trudie's place tomorrow. No wonder I had to go to my masseuse today and be pounded. I've been a vewy vewy bad girl according to her and shouldn't ever use my laptop in bed. ( Let that be a warning to you all)

Angela Sunde. said...

Hi Tina and Mabel. Thanks for popping in.

Anonymous said...

Creating picture books is such an art form. Thanks Cat and Angela for some great insights.