#FirstPictureBook

Cloud Conductor

July 30, 2018

Tags: Cloud Conductor, Kellie Byrnes, Ann-Marie Finn, Wombat Books

Kellie Byrnes is a children’s author, full-time freelance writer, and book reviewer. Her #firstpicturebook was acquired by a publisher after she attended her first kidlit conference. Today she tells us how she constructed the CLOUD CONDUCTOR—“Inspiring and full of positive messages . . . [an] exquisite book” (kids-bookreview.com).

Q. Was CLOUD CONDUCTOR the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Cloud Conductor was the first manuscript I wrote, actually. I came up with the idea, started to write it, and then realized I needed to keep reading and learning about picture books more. When I came back to it, though, it flowed much more easily.

Q. What inspired CLOUD CONDUCTOR?
A. The book was inspired by my reading an article about a sick child. I wondered how a little kid would cope with being cooped up inside for so long when they’re ill, not being able to do the things they normally enjoy. My mind wandered and I thought about how the imagination would be so important during these times. I pictured a child looking at the clouds, and seeing fun shapes in them. From there, the title ‘Cloud Conductor’ popped into my head, and I knew this was something I had to write, and follow the story of.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. As mentioned above, the title actually came very early on, when I was first thinking about the idea for the story. It was nice that it flowed so well. These days, I often struggle to name my manuscripts – I find it really challenging!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I use both options. When I’m first brainstorming ideas and plotting out picture books, I do it all by hand. For the first draft, it might start as handwritten too, or sometimes I just go straight to the computer. It depends how well developed the idea is, and what my mood is, to be honest!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
I love all the illustrations in the book (the illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn, did a wonderful job). But I particularly love a spread towards the beginning of the book, where it shows Frankie, the main character, working on an invention.

I didn’t specify in the text what the invention would be, but Ann-Marie turned it into an automatic ball thrower for Frankie’s dog. As the owner of two dogs, who has spent countless hours over the last decade throwing balls for them to fetch, this really hit home! I really like the way it shows Frankie’s curious and persevering nature, too.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I originally wrote the story with a different name for the main character. However, my publisher wanted this to be changed, since the name I had used she felt was too popular at the time, plus they’d just published another book that had a character with the same name. So I brainstormed with a friend, did research online and in baby-name books, and proposed a few options. In the end, though, the name Frankie just popped it my head! It wasn’t a name that I had brainstormed, but something must have made my subconscious come up with it. I have no idea what, though!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first, second, or third person? 
A. I wrote the book in third person, and this was pretty much just based on the fact that most picture books I had read were written that way. Today, I still typically write my picture books in third person. Occasionally this changes, but not often.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing CLOUD CONDUCTOR? 
A. Hmmm, when I first started to try and write it (before I got stuck because I didn’t understand picture book structure well enough), I think I knew the beginning and ending, but not really all the details of the middle.

Q. Did CLOUD CONDUCTOR receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No, I was really fortunate with Cloud Conductor. I attended my first kidlit conference in July 2016, and booked in for manuscript assessments with a couple of editors. I just wanted to get feedback to see if I was on the right track with my writing, but happily I actually got a contract from one of the editors I saw there. So no rejection letters for this one. I have numerous other rejections now, though, for other manuscripts!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CLOUD CONDUCTOR.
A. I was absolutely over the moon! I had always wanted to be an author, but then put those dreams aside for many years after I worked in the publishing industry for a time and saw how challenging it was to get published (plus I thought I needed more life experience, to have stories to tell).

Really, it was all just about a lack of confidence though. Finally getting that first contract, after committing to myself in mid-2015 that I would finally start to work on my own books, was amazing. Quite life changing, in fact.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. I didn’t have any input into the illustrator chosen. I was thrilled when I was told who it was though, as I was already a fan of Ann-Marie’s work.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The main thing that jumped out at me was the color palette. I didn’t see early sketches at all, just illustrations when they were a fair way along, so all in color. I absolutely love the colors used throughout, and the way they add more meaning to the book.

Q. How long did CLOUD CONDUCTOR take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It was a little under two years.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. I didn’t add anything later, but the ending was changed. I initially had it ending way too sadly for a picture book! There was an image I saw in my head, in the original ending, that I really loved though, but I was okay with changing things. It’s important to listen to publishers, after all, especially for your first book!

Q. Have you read  CLOUD CONDUCTOR to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Kids seem to be most intrigued when the story launches into the images Frankie sees in the sky. After all, most little ones have spent some time looking up at the clouds and seeing fun shapes, so I think they immediately identify with that.

Q. Did you create any book swag for CLOUD CONDUCTOR? If so, what kind?
A. The publishers created some great bookmarks and coloring-in sheets to go with the book, which is great. Plus, I’m also excited to announce that some gift cards have just been released, which are based on illustrations from the book.

There are two designs at the moment, which can be purchased separately to the book, and which feature Frankie. They can be used for a variety of occasions and uses. I just received my copies recently and the cards look amazing – wonderful quality, and really fun, positive messages. I hope other people like them as much as I do!

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Keep reading, learning, and writing. I don’t think there’s any substitute for any of those steps.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. When it comes to marketing, try not to be afraid to put yourself out there. I know it can be challenging, but the more you send press releases or contact bloggers or journalists to see if they might be interested in profiling you and/or your book, the easier it gets. Plus, try to make life as easy for others as possible, by including all the info and images they might need upfront. People are busy, so the more work you do for them, the more likely it is they’ll run your story.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. Lots of things! I’m someone who flits about from project to project, depending on my mood, so I always have at least 5 or more things on the go at once. I’m editing and writing new picture books (fiction and non-fiction); editing and writing junior fiction novels; and working on some outlines for middle grade and young adults books.

I also have my second picture book coming out late next year – it’s a humorous story about some cheeky animals – so I’m discussing illustrations and ideas with the illustrator and publisher as required. I can’t wait for that book to be published!

I am also a book reviewer and blogger. I review children’s books each month and interview authors and illustrators about their work, creative processes, inspirations, favorite books and more. This keeps me busy, too. In addition, I’m a full-time freelance writer, so my life is pretty well taken up with words and stories!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. My website is www.KellieByrnes.com, and you’ll find my blog here too.
As for social media, please connect with me on Twitter at @KellieJByrnes, on Facebook at KellieByrnesAuthor, and on Instagram (I’m not really active on there yet, but will be as soon as I find some more time) at kellie_byrnes.

Monty & Sylvester: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes

July 23, 2018

Tags: Monty & Sylvester: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes, Carly Gledhill, Orchard Books, 2018, #firstpicturebook

Carly Gledhill has worked as a print designer for studios and retailers and completed an M.A. in children’s book illustration. In April, she became an author too when her #firstpicturebook was published by Orchard Books. Today she tells us about creating MONTY & SYLVESTER: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes, including how she got the names for her characters after watching a popular daytime television show.

Q. Was MONTY & SYLVESTER the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. MONTY & SYLVESTER is the first book I finished writing from start to end, I had tried a few times before to write but nothing came together. The book was quite a quick process, everything fell into place organically, although I still wasn’t sure it was any good when I had finished. I completed an MA in Children’s Book Illustration and had made many novelty books to avoid having to write a story, so it’s not my natural habitat.

Q. What inspired MONTY & SYLVESTER?
A. I drew the characters first and they existed for a while before I came back to them. I loved the unlikely friendship between big furry bear and little blue mouse. I was trying, and failing, to work on other stories, so I thought I’d give these 2 another go. The original drawings really inspired the story at this point, the characters seemed quite naive and lovable so the story naturally lent this way. I decided they should become superheroes when thinking about what kids do at play time, obviously flying and saving the world was what I did as a toddler so it seemed about right. They are the least likely characters to do well at being superheroes too which is where the humour kicks in, pow!

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I wanted the title to reflect the everyday playtime nature of the story. Obviously MONTY & SYLVESTER need their name in lights on the cover as they are the stars, but it is just a tale of playtime gone exciting, it could happen to anyone!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. All by hand for this one, there isn’t an awful lot of text in the book and a lot of it relies on humour. I drew it all out as I illustrated the book. I’ve always used type in my illustration so knew where and what it should look like to enhance the story. Some of the original hand-drawn type made it into the final version too.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The first spread is probably my favourite. It hasn’t really changed since the first draft and sums up the personalities of our protagonists straight away! It’s a soft introduction to the book, sets the scene with a few clues of what’s to come!

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. They were originally named after a couple of property developers on daytime TV Favourite ‘Homes under the Hammer’. (I don’t watch daytime TV usually I was just waiting for a delivery to arrive, honestly.)

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person?
A. Oh dear, I didn’t, it’s a bit of a mish-mash of narration and the characters chatting away!

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing MONTY & SYLVESTER?
A. I had the basic outline ready—2 friends want to be super heroes that day, they’re a bit rubbish at it, they need a plan! I knew the setting would be domestic. I think that was about it. It really escalated from there with a different problem at the turn of each page, introducing more characters and peril!

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I have to get excited about the characters so I usually start with a good drawing of what they will look like then usually they talk to me and lead their own adventure!

With MONTY & SYLVESTER I didn’t know what I was doing, so I did both at the same time. Now I’ve got more of a clue. I try to write the story first before illustrating the spreads, working on storyboards with rough sketches.

Q. Did MONTY & SYLVESTER receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I was very lucky in this respect, I sent the book to my agent Arabella at the Bright Agency and very soon Orchard Books were interested in it. I couldn’t believe my luck!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MONTY & SYLVESTER.
A. Disbelief, excitement, ticking off life goals with a big pen!

Q. How long did MONTY & SYLVESTER take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It’s been about a year and a half, which as an illustrator who has worked commercially for years, seems forever! I’ve just received my advanced copies of the book, so it still isn’t out in the world yet. I can’t wait!

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. It was more the opposite with this book. The initial book had very clean spreads, very minimal with a pared down colour palette and I had to add more in. More was needed to make the book more colourful and action packed, inspired by classic Batman with graphic stars and action words.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. It’s fine to give up on an idea and move on to something else, not every idea will work. You’ll know when you’re onto the right one. Also leaving your desk and going for a walk, or taking a few days off to refuel the mind is usually a good idea when things get frustrating.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I love storyboards. Making the story fit with exciting doodle illustrations is my favourite part. I usually have lots of blank storyboards printed out and go through tens of them before everything fits and flows together. It’s picture book problem solving!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m just completing the second MONTY & SYLVESTER book with Orchard (top secret at the mo). Then I’m going to have a bit of time to draw and be creative and think of some new book ideas. I also have a children’s brand called Corby Tindersticks, I’ve just designed some new products so I’m working on marketing those too! You can see more at www.corbytindersticks.com

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
www.carlygledhill.com
instagram.com/carly_gledhill
twitter.com/carlygledhill

CURIOSITY

July 16, 2018

Tags: Curiosity, Markus Motum, Walker Books, 2018

While doing research for his #firstpicturebook, Markus Motum visited the NASA’s Twitter account for the Mars Rover which was written in first person. Markus knew that element would help the reader connect with the robot’s story so he followed the rover’s lead in CURIOSITY —“a fascinating page turner” (New York Journal of Books) and an “engaging children’s book debut” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Q. Was CURIOSITY the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It was my first after graduating, however my final major project at university was a picture book. I already loved picture books but it was that project which cemented the fact that I wanted to make them myself.

Q. What inspired CURIOSITY?
A. The true story of Curiosity—a rover the size of a 1 tonne car, successfully making its way to Mars, attempting a never before done landing—to me was stranger, or rather, more wonderful then fiction. On the one hand it was a great scientific based story, but on the other I just saw this amazing story with a rover people seemed to care about on a personal level. 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The name of the rover was such a perfect fit for the title of the book. The book shows where your curiosity can take you. Clara Ma won a NASA competition to name the rover, and part of her submitted essay for the competition is used to close out the book itself. 

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I'll start by hand, as ideas or sentences come to me I'll want to get them down immediately, for me there's no more instant method than pen to paper. Notes or paragraphs will be jotted all around my sketchbooks. As the project progresses and I need something resembling a coherent story, I need the computer to help!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 
A. I always liked the last few spreads, which take place after the rover has finished telling us about her journey. The story beats haven't changed since my original idea. I also had to change the colour of the Martian sky for one spread, as the colours I had chosen didn't match up to the time of day it would have been when Curiosity landed on local Martian time! I really liked the new colours and how it turned out. 

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this story?
A. I used a number of books, including the Haynes Owner's Workshop manual which featured previous rovers like Spirit and Opportunity, as well as Curiosity. NASA is great at putting out content whether it be written or videos, so I had a great library of resources from things they just make public. Finally to make sure the book held up to factual and scientific scrutiny, Walker brought on a Mars expert, Stuart Atkinson, who brought some great insight to the project and was great at making sure the text (and pictures!) were kept accurate. 

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person? 
A. In the very early days, when I was still approaching how I might tackle the book and story, I visited the rovers official Twitter account, and saw that the rover tweets in the 1st person. “My launch was a total success!” or “I’m making final preparations for my landing...wish me luck.” It created an immediate connection for audiences with this rover. It anthropomorphized the rover beautifully, and I knew having the rover talk directly to the readers could help in getting them engaged. I didn't want this to be a dry science lesson. By the end I wanted readers to really care about this rover and its amazing journey, and hopefully having it in the 1st person helped achieve this. 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The story was only very loosely planned out before the images I wanted in there started popping into my head, from there they would appear in tandem. 

Q. Did CURIOSITY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I made a list of dream publishers I would love to be published by, and was going to work my way down the list, sending my only copy of the book to each in turn. That was the plan, but Walker Books, at the top of the list, asked me to come have a meeting with them. Needless to say I was rather caught off guard!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CURIOSITY.
A. I tried to remain as calm as possible — I didn't want to risk counting my chickens before they had hatched. Needless to say my parents reaction more then made up for my seemingly calm one!

Q. How long did CURIOSITY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took a little over year, which was spent making many iterations and changes to the one I had originally pitched to Walker. Some of this was narrative based, to help the book and story flow better, and some of this was changing illustrations based on Stuart's Mars knowledge.  

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. Towards the end of the book there was an additional spread of the rover with no text which I really wanted to keep, but we had too many pages so the spread had to go. There was so much to cover in the book, there was nowhere else we could take pages out!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books? 
A. Spend time working on your idea/story. Once you've got your foundations established, everything else will fall into place that much easier. 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. It’s not a very original one, but always have your pen and sketchbook/paper to hand wherever you go. You can guarantee inspiration or an idea is going to come to you when you least expect, not when when you need it the most! 

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm currently working on a book cover for a novel by Walker Books— producing artwork for someone else's writing is a first for me, and solidifying ideas for the difficult second album, or rather picture book!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. I'm on Twitter (@markusmotum ), Instagram (markus_motum), and my blog can be found at www.markusillustration.blogspot.com 

On vacation...will be back soon.

July 13, 2018

Will be back soon with new #firstpicturebook Q&As!