Book Week

I love Book Week. A chance to share all the things I love about books and writing. And at Firbank Grammar on Wednesday last, I was able to share with the whole school. And more. The gorgeous preps wrote me some illustrated letters complete with custom-made envelopes. And in a bonus bonus, I met up with a childhood friend – not seen for (ahem) many years. Was lovely to have a very brief catchup.

On Friday and today, I was working with Year 8s writing War Poetry. They came up with some amazing images in their poems.

This Friday I’m off to Buxton to workshops with Preps, 1s and 2s. Love a sing and dance I do! So we’ll be reading stories, singing, dancing and making gates I think.

Look who’s here!

Welcome to Dee White, author of YA novel ‘Letters to Leonardo’ and ‘Tuesday Writing Tips’ blog. Thanks for visiting Dee, it’s lovely to have you here. Dee’s here to ask me some questions about picture books and how they are created.

Dee: Hi Claire, can you start by telling us about your picture books – maybe even pick out a favourite?

My first picture book, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas, is called ‘Ebi’s Boat’ and is about a boy who wants someone to share his passion for boats. My second, ‘A Nest for Kora’, illustrated by Judith Rossell, follows Kora’s search for a perfect nest for her first egg. ‘Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate, also illustrated by Judith Rossell, was released in September 2009 and is the story of a sheep and a goat who share neighbouring paddocks. And my newest picture book, ‘There Was an Old Sailor’, illustrated by Cassandra Allen was released yesterday!

As to a favourite…that’s like asking which of your children do you love best…an impossible task. When school children ask me that, I do say that it’s usually the story I’m currently working on because it’s the one that’s most occupying my head.

Dee: Seeing as picture books are illustrated, how much visual description do you need?

This may surprise some people, but the answer is ‘very little’. An illustrator will interpret my words and bring their own visual narrative to the book, and the less description, the wider scope for their imagination. The only time I’ll include description is when it’s vital for the plot but not explicitly mentioned.

Dee: Do you get to pick your illustrator? Do you meet them and talk about the pictures you want for your book?

It varies. Sometimes I’ll have suggestions and share them with the editor or publisher, but sometimes the publisher will make that decision. They’ll share their ideas, and ask for mine, but the decision is theirs. I met with Anne Spudvilas to talk about the text before she started illustrating ‘Ebi’s Boat’ and I know Judith Rossell quite well, but we don’t discuss in the early stages how the illustrations will look. Cassandra Allen lives in Switzerland and I’ve not met her although we’ve had email conversations. Mostly illustrator questions come to me via the publisher/editor.

Dee: Do you have a picture in your head of what you want your book to look like?

Again, I generally have very little picture of how my characters will look. I write as though I am looking out through their eyes. How they look is unimportant to me when I’m writing. The exception of course is if their appearance is a fundamental part of the plot. In an early chapter book, the main character’s father was nick-named ‘Banana-beard’, and his appearance was very important in the plot so I did describe him. I didn’t however include any description of the main character. The settings too are left as open as possible.

Dee: Seeing as you don’t get to meet the illustrator, do you have to put instructions to them on your manuscript?

I don’t include ‘notes to illustrator’ with any story submission. For reasons already mentioned, I want the illustrator to have as much room as possible to bring their own interpretation to the text.

Dee: How much information/instruction do you think a writer needs to give the illustrator?

Very little. A picture book is a collaboration between writer, publishing team and illustrator. Each brings their own skills to the project. To provide too much detail could be at the very least restrictive of an illustrator, and at worst, insulting to suggest that they won’t have enough imagination to interpret your text. My job as the writer is to prepare the best text I can, and then let the other members of the team provide their part.

Dee: Do you use your own animals/children as models for your books? For example were Sheep and Goat a sheep and goat that you knew personally?

I love sheep. I think they are wonderful silly, clever, soft, frustrating creatures! Goats I know less well. None of my children remotely resemble either Sheep or Goat!
Nor is my Old Sailor based on anyone I know, although having three sons, I certainly have witnessed enough episodes of extreme eating.
‘Ebi’s Boat’ was written after observing the different passions pursued by my three sons. But although they constantly inspire and astound me, I’m not sure I could ever write directly about any of them.

Thanks heaps for visiting, Dee, and for asking me about picture books. Everyone works differently, and hopefully this chat will entice others to share how they work.

For my writing tip, visit Dee at ‘Tuesday Writing Tips

The Launch

‘Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate’ was launched on Sunday at Collingwood Children’s Farm. I was up early making final adjustments to the cake and making sure everything was ready.

We were at the Farm early but not as early as many of the families for family day. It was Family Day, and goats were the feature and there were goats everywhere. Kids and nannies and billies. As we were setting up, we were serenaded by some gorgeous long-legged kids, welcomed by curious chooks (the biggest chooks you could hope to see) and assisted by Farm staff.

Launch went well, and included Sally, the goat, and her pining amour, Tripod who called to her from the other side of the barn. My brother, David, stepped in at the last minute to MC the launch and did a great job. Bridget, weekend farm manager who launched ‘Sheep Goat and the Creaking Goat’ confessed to a small distraction as she saw that Sally was a bit too close to my foot and began to worry that she (Sally that is) might wee on my shoe!

After Bridget had launched ‘Sheep, Goat..’, I read the book and Jude showed the pictures. We gathered a few passersby who slowed and stayed to listen to the story.

The sun shone, the air was warm, and all was well with the world. The gate cake was a hit, the sheep fairy bread (thanks Kim, Natalie and Michael) disappeared as did the sheep and the goat biscuits (thanks Jude).

Thanks to everyone who came and to those who couldn’t make it but wished us well. It was a fun day.

‘Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate’ is now well and truly launched! I’ll post more photos as I can.

The Cake

Cakes cooling. Yes, the top ones overflowed into the oven, a lovely chocolate lava spill…
The bottom ones are a double cake mix each, and two of the bar ones = a single mixture

Undressed, but ready to go…

Now, you might assume this is the final cake, and it certainly was intended to be. But there was a slight incident with a puppy and one of the gate posts had to be remade. That meant another cake cooked before we went out to dinner and cut and fit and iced when we returned at 2.30am. Oh and a colour-adjustment extra layer of icing next morning.

It measured just under 60 cm x 60 cm.

Then it was finished!

A gate, a gate, my kingdom for a gate…

Well, perhaps not my kingdom…

The Melbourne launch of Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate is this Sunday at Collingwood Children’s Farm (CCF). I’m really looking forward to it. But before the day, there’s a cake to be made.

A sheep cake? Nah. A goat cake? Uh-uh. Of course! A gate cake. How hard could it be? For how many people? Hmm, there’s the kicker…I have no idea. Sunday is Family Day at CCF and it’s also goat day. I’m hoping there will be kids of the goat variety as well as the child variety. So how big to make the cake?


Stay posted for how that works! I will take pics…

CBCA at the Convent

My friend Jackie Kerin and I went along to the CBCA Book Week gig at The Convent in Abbotsford. It’s a great venue and I like going back there because before it became an arts precinct and after it was a convent, it was part home to Lincoln Institute and I studied there. But…back to Sunday…

Jackie was storytelling, based on her book, Phar Lap the wonder horse. I had no official function and as I had no copies of Sheep, Goat beyond my own, was keeping a low profile. I did catch up with a few people (hello Jacqui Grantford, Ann J) and meet some new ones (hello Sarah Davis, Mark Austin and Richard Mordern) and ended the day reading Sheep, Goat to a few people (Jacqui G had painty hands)

L to R…me, Jackie Kerin, Mark Austin, Pemberthy Bear and Jacqui G. To those who know Sally Murphy’s Pemberthy Bear, this is Pemberthy, taking a bow.

Premier’s Reading Challenge

I was in the library yesterday, copying the roughs for Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate to use in school visits. I always check in the picture book section to see if my books are there. If so, I make sure they are visible. If not, I smile because it means that someone has borrowed it.

Anyhoo, there was a mother madly foraging through the chapter books with a rolled up newspaper beneath her arm. She pulled the newspaper out and checked it. That’s when I realised it was the Premier’s Reading Challenge list for 2009. I remembered then that the list was to be included in 15 Feb’s Sunday Age, and went scurrying home to drag the paper out of the recycle bin. I found the list and checked it for my titles and for those of friends.

It’s a great thing for readers this challenge, listing so many books they might like to read. It’s a great thing for writers/illustrators to have their titles included on the list. Not sure librarians are so excited by the list, as no list can be completely inclusive and there are plenty of other good books on the shelf. But any initiative that guides a few more children into a longterm reading habit is a good one I reckon.

Goat joins Sheep

A little while ago I posted that I’d found a toy sheep that I’ll use when sharing my next picture book (Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate) with children. I also said that I’d struggled to find a goat toy. A friend read the entry and sent me some suggestions recently. The one she’d found was too small but it reignited my search and I found my goat! Thanks Sally, thanks RSPCA who stocked it as a dog toy. Emmi, our dog, loves stuffed toys and our back yard is strewn with bhe bits of the current favourite. When the goat arrived in the post, she was very excited and even more disappointed when the goat joined the sheep on top of my bookshelf.

I’ve seen Judith’s roughs and they’re great. Can’t wait to see the finished artwork and the proofs. At this stage the publication date for Sheep, Goat is July 2009.

Now to research the differences between sheep and goats. And the similarities.


Random pics from Queensland…

A wombat cave, minus wombat

View of Burleigh Heads

Strangler figs…I find the idea of these plants amazing…and these were big ones. Poor strangled other tree

View inland from Mt Tamborine – this is where the hang-gliders launch themselves

Basalt columns emerging almost horizontally from the hill. See the bloke climbing them?

Crocodile skin (crocodile attached) -It’s not hard to accept they are prehistoric

Emu feet

My next picture book, due out July 2009 is called ‘Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate’. These goats were out front of a cheese factory we visited.