Welcome to this issue of my 'Writing for Children' newsletter, which focuses on writing and illustrating books for children – but has information relevant to other genres, too.
For those who have been subscribers for a while – many thanks for your patience! I hope this edition is worth the wait.
People who have recently subscribed will soon realise that your inbox will never be flooded with emails from me! This newsletter is not sent out regularly - just as time allows and things come to mind to share.
Did you find all the previous editions in the archive? They're all still there!
The Art of the Story Archive
No matter if you are a seasoned professional writer or illustrator, a beginner aiming for publication or a young person enjoying stories, writing, drawing and craft activities, the aim is always to include
...something you'll find useful
...something you'll find interesting
Topics in this edition are...
• Self-publishing and Verse
• Writing and Illustrating - The work of Leigh Hobbs
• Top Tips - Literary Agents
• For Fun - Medieval Library Fines
• My Favourite Illustrators - Sir John Tenniel
I'll appreciate any feedback you can give, questions you'd like me to answer (or find answers to), and suggestions for future editions.
57 Remick Street
Queensland 4053 Australia
Self Publishing and Verse
Self-publishing has become something anyone can do at zero cost. I may explain more fully how this is done in another edition. The sad thing is, however, that very few people indeed have their work edited before having it printed. Self-published books have a terrible reputation for being badly written, poorly illustrated and full of spelling errors. It’s a shame because the reputation of these books is so bad that the majority of book stores won’t stock any at all, and I can understand it. Once they accepted the first one, they’d be inundated with hundreds of the poor ones they’d have to read, just to find the next one worthy of shelf space.
Apart from those faults listed, the other main one is that anything written in verse just doesn’t flow or rhyme as it should.
If you go to this site and select the 'free courses' page, you can sign up to receive all the basic information you need to make your verse perfect.
A free lesson will be emailed to you each week, and at the end you will never hear from the person again …unless you want to. She’s good - and will give advice on your work if you pay. The reason she provides a free course is because poems written by people who have received it, don’t take hours and hours to correct. Everyone wins.
Jackie Hosking is another star at helping people to create perfect verse. You can check out her work and service at:
Jackie also produces a wonderful magazine called 'Pass It On', which is full of useful information. If you investigate the archive you'll see what I mean – issues contain a wide variety of content, all contributed by writers for children.
But there are good reasons for ‘self-publishing’ some books.
For example, notes, exercises and information can be sold, in a professional format, with a high perceived value, to participants at workshops and through authors' websites.
My 82 year old mother-in-law has written about her early life on a cattle station and some of the family history in Australia. (The first was an Irish convict who was a guarantor for a loan for his friend to buy a horse - but didn't have the cash when his 'friend' couldn't pay, and was transported. Another was William Lawson, who accompanied Blaxland in the first crossing of the Blue Mountains and later was the first to drive cattle over them. Another was Sister Kenny, who was instrumental in wiping out polio.) It's probably not saleable - though m-i-l did do 'Senior School Certificate' at the age of 65, then a BA in English and history so that she could write it well. By using 'Print On Demand' (POD) technology, the family will now be able to purchase single copies in perpetuity without worrying about what numbers to have printed at a time and major cash outlay, and storing copies in the garage. It will be good for us all to have nicely bound copies.
At my daughter's school, the 15 year old students wrote stories and illustrated them, then sent the original copies to India to schools lacking books. What a waste! If they had published them using ‘Print On Demand’, through
, with no set up charge, they could have sold copies to friends and family to fund-raise, then bought and sent multiple copies to India for the children.
Writing and Illustrating – the work of Leigh Hobbs
A few of weeks ago I went to a talk by Leigh Hobbs, illustrator and writer (I’m sure he would prefer that order). He’s famous for his ‘Old Tom’ and ‘Fiona the Pig’ and ‘Horrible Harriet’ picture books, and now has a series out called ‘Freaks’.
One of his statements really hit home for me. When he starts illustrating a book, his first consideration is showing the characters, before starting the story – portraying them in such a way that we understand how they tick. We have to know all about them in the first three pages
No one is going to want to read a book of any kind if they can’t relate to the characters. We have to bring them to life.
Even if you are a writer, you may still like to draw your characters. By drawing, you are forced to make decisions. Neat or scruffy? Followed by a cloud of flies? On the round side through eating too many chips and watching TV (this could be exaggerated by drawing thin legs)? Battle scars? What sort of clothes do they wear? A bow in their hair or let it flow wild? And so on…
I bought a copy of Leigh’s ‘Old Tom’s Holiday’. Though Tom’s drawn as a cat, everyone realises he stands for a 7 year old child – and he carries a fish skeleton everywhere, like a security blanket. The tidy minded owner, Angela, represents any parent or authority figure. Children recognise this - and also, though Tom and Angela may frustrate each other, by subtle things in the drawings (such as Angela bending over Tom with one hand unthreateningly behind her back), there is no doubt that they unconditionally love each other.
On the first page of 'Old Tom goes on Holiday', Tom is lounging in a chair with his feet on the arm, debris strewn all round him. It's as if the action is taking place on a stage. An exasperated Angela walks into view, busy as usual with the household chores - vacuuming and dusting. She is looking at the reader as if asking for sympathy. Tom relaxes defiantly and will never be shamed into helping - but he knows Angela loves him. Though Angela looks annoyed and Tom looks as though he has just been told off for making a mess, the text reads, 'Angela Throgmorton loved Old Tom, but bringing him up was hard work. He liked to relax, and never helped around the house.' The characters are built and all is set for the story to begin.
(In another story, the last page shows Angela and Tom hand in hand, with Angela carrying the fish skeleton. What more love could one have? The editor at the publishing house 'liquid papered' out the fish from this drawing prior to printing. They didn’t understand the importance of the image. Leigh drew the fish back, by hand, on each copy of the first print run.)
In other books featuring 'Fiona the Pig' and her family, Fiona is a neat and 'girly' little pig, and her parents are filthy and pig-like. Again, though every book is a different story or adventure, each shows the unconditional love of the characters for each other, though it's never told in the words, and is only obvious by the pictures and storyline.
The theme of each book is never explicitly explained.
'Horrible Harriet' maybe disliked at times by her classmates, but without telling us so, the theme of the books is really about someone who ideally would like to fit in, but is 'different' and is sometimes misunderstood because they do unpopular things.
'Freaks', the ‘class without a yearning for learning’, comes from Leigh’s time as a teacher and his difficulties with students. The Freaks students are an unruly mob of bullies. Kids relate to the students in the story and their escapades, and think the books are hilarious, and teachers enjoy them too, saying that only a teacher could have written it for the depiction of their plight is so accurate. The truth is known and appreciated by children who read the books - when in groups, people act differently and out of true character.
This is what readers and publishers like – no preaching, no lessons explained. Leigh also only ever uses 1950’s simple English, which is timeless and will never offend.
Most of Leigh's books are sold, and are popular, worldwide. He has just returned from 3 weeks of touring the US, as arranged by his publishers there - speaking about 'visual literacy'. He said he has a file of rejection letters for 'Old Tom' in which editors told him his ideas were 'rubbish', and worse. The first book was rejected by 8 publishers, but it’s now so much loved that it has now been made into a TV series, too.
Instead of sending stories to publishers, many authors send them to literary agents. If a literary agent likes the story enough, they will ‘represent’ the author and send it to editors they know that like the kind of thing that has been written. Editors are often more keen to read work sent by agents, as they know the agent will only send them well written stories. The editor will most likely read it for longer before making up their mind if they want to purchase it.
Authors often give up sending a story to editors after 5 or 6 send rejection letters, but agents keep sending the work out to more publishing houses. But there’s a problem. It’s often harder to be accepted by an agent than by a publisher.
For all the information you need to know about agents, go to the following sites:
Download the ebook (I bought it, but he’s no longer charging):
‘Write a Great Query’ by Noah Lukeman.
Read it thoroughly and follow it exactly...
From the beginning, read the blog of:
Nathan Bransford -
and that of Miss Snark –
If you want to find out how long it takes individual agents to reply, go to Verla Kay’s site and read the Forum posts -
Verla Kay’s website contains an enormous amount of good information.
Over the next few months I’ll add more information about agents to my site.
Medieval Library Fines?
Have you ever borrowed a book and kept it too long?
The term ‘colophon’, in publishing, is used these days to describe the notes that are put at the end of a book, detailing things like the brand of paper used, its archival quality and the type face. It’s often a feature of books produced by small private presses.
Those colophons written in the Middle Ages, however, were far more fun. Many recorded the person who had commissioned the production of the book, the owner, the scribe, date and place of writing, and the scribe’s thoughts, eg:“Now I’ve written the whole thing:
for Christ’s sake give me a drink.”
A few scribes and illuminators drew self-portraits, too. In the Leon Bible of 960 AD, the master scribe, Florenius, and the painter-student Sanctio are depicted pleased with themselves, glasses raised, drinking a toast to God to celebrate the results of their efforts.
But I like the curses in medieval colophons, written to deter borrowers from keeping books too long, or destroying them:
"For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for ever."
My Favourite Illustrators – Sir John Tenniel
John Tenniel, later Sir John Tenniel, is remembered most as the illustrator of Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Alice through the Looking Glass (1872).
At 16, his paintings were being exhibited in galleries and he was soon to be commissioned to paint a fresco for the House of Lords, in London. After having some cartons published in ‘Punch’ magazine, he was offered a permanent post there as a ‘political cartoonist’. At first he was reluctant, considering himself a ‘high artist’ and not particularly humorous (he trained at the Royal Academy – though left because he didn’t think he was getting quality tuition), but accepted the job in 1850, at the age of 30.
The political figures he portrayed were drawn with vigour and accuracy of likeness. Unlike most artists, none of his drawings were ever done with the subject or a photograph or sketch or any drapery in front of him - he had a photographic memory.
For his weekly cartoon, he was given the subject on a Wednesday, thought about it and made a rough sketch on Thursday, worked hard all day on Friday on the final version, and traced it on to wood and drew on that. The aim was to have it ready for collection at about 5.30pm, when the engravers assistant would arrive to collect it. Sometimes he had to wait for an hour or so – but eventually Joseph Swain, the engraver, would receive it and get to work. The engraving took a day, and then it was printed along with the rest of the magazine. A sample copy arrived by mail late on Monday, but Tenniel was always too nervous to open it, and left that to his sister.
Tenniel’s polished satirical artwork swayed political parties and voters, but he was also a visual story teller.
Each year, Punch magazine also published an Almanack, and I have most of the early ones. As well as cartoons and pictures with political relevance, Tenniel also drew simple humorous stories, title pages and borders for the ‘astrological’ calendar pages. These are full of detail, and I’m sure would have been studied by children as well as adults.
The title pages weave all the astrological representations into a montage, and though characters are drawn and engraved in small size, the eyes, expressions and postures magnetise the onlooker.
Tenniel worked for Punch until 1901, when he was 80, and died in 1914.
I have created a page of images of the work of John Tenniel to accompany these and extra notes, including suggestions for the origins of some of his ‘Alice’ pictures.
Here’s the link if you’d like to discover more:
Sir John Tenniel
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