Today I’m pleased to welcome Natalie Page to the blog. Natalie’s debut children’s book, Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventure: The Petal Planet is published by Austin Macauley and was published on 31 May 2016.
Natalie has kindly written a guest post on why she writes children’s fiction. Carry on reading afterwards for my review.
Why Children’s Fiction?
If someone had told me ten years ago I would find myself writing children’s fiction, much less having a book published, I would probably wonder how drunk they were.
I have always loved to write, but like most people I got caught up in getting what others described as a ‘ real job’, settling down and paying the bills.
It was only when I was on maternity leave that I found myself with the ability to be creative once again, a feeling that I hadn’t had since I was at school. Without rhyme or reason I found myself jotting down story ideas, characters, plot lines and something became very clear, I wanted to write for children.
Some of my fondest memories growing up are of books I read or were read to me.
When I was little I adored story time before bed with my sister, revelling in the classics such as the Hungry Caterpillar, The Faraway Tree and Winnie the Pooh. As I grew older I devoured everything Roald Dahl ever wrote. Once into my teenage years I spent hours engrossed in teen fiction, particularly anything with a female protagonist so Nancy Drew, and Mallory Towers were firm favourites alongside the popular Point Horror series.
Whilst on maternity I set myself the task of simply writing as much as possible and following my inspiration. By the end of my leave I had the first draft of a YA fiction novel (all 85,000 words of it) and several children’s picture book stories. I was hooked.
When I started to tell people what I had been doing, it was clear that they were making several assumptions. “So you’re going to continue with the children’s picture books, right? They’re easier.”
It got me thinking, is writing picture books for children really any easier than writing for adults?
In short, I think the answer is No, and here’s why based on what I have learnt so far:
* It is a lot harder than you think to tell a compelling story that will engage children (and not irritate their parents) in 500 words or less. Those of us with young children will know that very rarely do you get away with reading a book just once. I can safely say I know The Gruffalo, Rabbit’s Nap and countless others off by heart. Don’t get me wrong, I do not profess to be an expert at writing for small children, but if you assume that a lower word count means easier to write, then I think you will be disappointed
* It’s a crowded market – if you venture into any bookstore you will see what I mean. There are countless picture books on offer for young children, and competing with the well-known authors / illustrators can be challenging. So what is it that will make your book stand out on those shelves when it is alongside all the other big names?
* You’re not only writing a story, you are writing tag lines for pictures. A children’s agent once gave me some very tough feedback but he had a point. When it comes to picture books you really have to write for the pictures. As an author if you are simply putting words on the page it won’t be enough. To have a successful picture
book the words need to conjure up very clear images so those reading it can imagine the story before a single image has been drawn.
* You need to think in spreads. All genres of fiction have a guide when it comes to length and for the majority that is word count. When it comes to picture books I have learnt that you not only need to think about word count and imagery but you also need to think in book format, specifically page spreads. Traditionally children’s picture books are 32 pages (although there are exceptions) and this includes 24 pages or 12 spreads where your story will fit. It’s not an exact science, I have found some posts which say you have 14 spreads to work with, either way it is something you should definitely consider if writing a picture book and you want to avoid lots of editing later on.
* Think carefully about the marketing. A critical component of any children’s book success will be getting the book to your audience, this may well mean readings in schools / libraries / summer clubs etc. Unlike adult fiction, in no other genre do you have access to large numbers of your readership all in one place, this can make things easier but also means you need to be a bit more creative! How will you make the experience engaging for your audience? We all know children can be a tough crowd to please, will you be offering anything more than just a simple reading? Will there be activities? Puppets? Drama?
This is a short summary of what I have learnt so far on my writing journey and I have no doubt that there is a lot more to learn.
When people ask me why I choose to write Children’s stories I tell them the truth. I write children’s stories because I need to. These are the stories that form in my mind and I honestly feel like I have no choice but to write them down. Whether people end up reading them is another matter entirely! In many ways I feel I am rather old fashioned, I love fairy stories, magic and trying to write characters that will make children want to read about them over and over again. Like every adult who adores Harry Potter (of which I am one!) there is probably a large part of me that simply doesn’t want to grow up, who wants to stay in a world where magic and dragons are real. All I can hope for is that children who read my work will enjoy it.
When I wrote Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures: The Petal Planet, it was because I was inspired by Chris’s original artwork and I wanted to create a story that combined a touch of magic with a thought provoking story and unique pictures. I also spoke to several parents and early years teachers to get a feel for what children will respond to and rhyming couplets was a clear recommendation. Chris and I sincerely hope we have achieved our goal of creating something special. Whatever happens, I will always be thankful for the process we have been through to get to this point.
Natalie’s debut children’s book Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures: The Petal Planet is out now and available from Amazon, WH Smiths and Waterstones.
“To Jen, her life was a terrible bore.
She wished she had more than the landscape she saw…
Jen lives alone on her solitary sand planet, until one day, a boy named Zak comes to visit. Through a little of Zak‘s magic and an unusual umbrella, Jen is transported to a beautiful world, and her new friend helps her learn a valuable lesson along the way.”
This is the tale of Jen, alone on her sandy planet. Then Zak comes to visit her and takes to visit a far off land. Through Zak, Jen learns not only about new places, but about new outlooks for familiar surroundings.
The rhyming couplets lend a lovely lilt to the tale, making it easy to read, (always a bonus for parents who have to read a story what can be multiple times in one sitting), and give the story a lovely flow and pace. It had my eldest sat upright and listening intently on first hearing it.
Chris Rivers Nutall’s illustrations perfectly complement the story. The pictures in this book are beautiful and help create the magical quality the book has. In fact one of my little ones snuggled up so that they could have a better look at the pictures as I read the story.
The pictures could be classed as a little dark, though I think they are beautiful, but the book is saved from being scary by the story. It is a story of making new friends, of helping others be happy and of learning to appreciate what you already have, all valuable lessons for anyone, not just children.
This book is a lovely new addition to our bedtime routine and I look forward to reading more adventure of Zak and Jen in the future.
My thanks to the author for the review copy of this book. My review is my honest opinion of the story.