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True Story Blog

Monty & Sylvester: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes

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.)
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Ed Masessa's work includes managing selections for Scholastic Book Fairs, critiquing books, and writing children's books. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller THE WANDMAKER'S GUIDEBOOK but today he looks back at his first picture book, SCARECROW MAGIC—"Halloween-worthy chills for any time of year." (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Q. Was SCARECROW MAGIC the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. I’ve written at least 20 picture manuscripts but Scarecrow is the first one that has been published. Which means there are many more to come! My very first attempt (some 15 years ago) was about a woodpecker with a soft beak – quite a handicap. I still believe in that one and plan to make some adjustments to make it more relevant to the current diversity initiatives that are sweeping the publishing industry. I might have been ahead of my time.

Q. What inspired SCARECROW MAGIC?
A. Like many of my generation, The Wizard of Oz was my favorite movie as a child. It was shown once a year on TV and it wasn’t until we got our first color TV that I realized that part of it was filmed in color. The flying monkey scene might have been terrifying if I hadn’t been so inquisitive. As they threw Scarecrow’s straw all around, I always wondered what happened to his bones. I thought it would be a cool tribute to my childhood imagination to create a scarecrow with a skeleton.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I tend to believe that a full moon holds a bit of magic that is capable of making strange things happen. Add a scarecrow, and there you have it.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. When they are playing jacks and eating snacks and treats that have the odor of feet. My original draft spent too much time on the set-up and not enough time having fun. I started adding more games and coming up with gross ideas and that’s when the story took off.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. Honestly, I never considered telling it any other way.

Q. Was SCARECROW MAGIC always in rhyme or was there another version in prose?
A. The story was always intended rhyme. That said, I’ve heard many editors at conferences tell authors that they really don’t like to see submissions written in rhyme. Yet so many picture books are rhyming. The trick is in making it rhyme with a natural cadence. I have a musical background which I think helped.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SCARECROW MAGIC?
A. I knew the beginning and the end, and that I wanted it to be a fun book to read aloud. Everything that happened in the middle evolved over the course of many revisions.

Q. Did SCARECROW MAGIC receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. My agent, Marcia Wernick, helped me polish the draft and sent it to a half dozen or so editors over the course of several months. They all came back with a “well done, but…” And all of the ‘buts’ hit upon a central theme – the story dragged. So I kept the bones of the story and went to work on picking up the pace and the fun factor.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SCARECROW MAGIC.
A. I was so happy I almost hung up the phone without asking how much the publisher was offering.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Most picture book authors are not given the opportunity to select an illustrator, but because I’ve been working in children’s publishing for 20 years, I was allowed to offer some suggestions. Matt Myers was my first choice and I was elated that they agreed.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I thought it was brilliant! He totally captured the balance between fun and scary. And the back cover concept was amazing! I never saw that coming and actually laughed out loud when I saw it.

Q. How long did SCARECROW MAGIC take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About two years, but I think part of that was because it is definitely a Fall book.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (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. No, but I liked the character so much that I wrote a sequel… that will probably never be published. It was a heartwarming Christmas story with Scarecrow helping an abandoned puppy. And even though I had Scarecrow dressed in a ratty old Santa suit, there was a lot of resistance to using a scarecrow as a “Christmas” character. I’ve not given up, but I may eventually give in and turn the scarecrow into a snowman.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about SCARECROW MAGIC?
A. Some of the hand-drawn pictures I get are pretty funny – and usually better than I could have done.

Q. When you do readings of SCARECROW MAGIC, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. When Scarecrow jumps into the pond with just his underwear on. I didn’t write that into my notes and never saw it coming. But Matt has a terrific sense of humor and knew that any scene with underwear would tickle a kid’s funny bone.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. If something isn’t working, don’t force it. Just scrap it and find a different approach. There are very few bad ideas but lots of bad execution.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share? I love going to art shows and museums.
A. My favorite exercise is taking a piece of art or an ancient artifact and creating a story about it. I just let my imagination run wild. The more bizarre the better, because usually I will hit on something that can be fleshed out. There is a lot of truth to the adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am revising the sequel to the Wandmaker, my first novel which was published in May. Wandmaker’s Apprentice is due out in Summer 2017. I am also working on my next picture book as well as a chapter book series that pays a bit of homage to one of my childhood heroes, Ray Harryhausen.

To learn more about Ed Masessa and his books, visit his website.
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