Archives for posts with tag: story ideas

friendly puffins

I can’t remember now what first inspired me, about ten years ago, to write about a puffin. Perhaps it was a tin of oatcakes we had in the kitchen, with a charming image of two nuzzling puffins. Somehow a character emerged in my mind and a story started to develop. As it did, I decided to do some drawings so I could share the story with my children.

I imagined a puffin who was unhappy living by the sea, and who dreamed of doing something more exciting. What else might a puffin do for a living?

Lewis in goal

The puffin’s name was Lewis, and he came up with a few ideas. What about a football goalie?

puffin cowboy

Or a cowboy singing songs out on the range?

puffin driver

Lewis thought it would be fun to drive a bus. Or perhaps he could be an acrobat, or a mechanic, or a postman?

puffin plans

Lewis had a brother called Harris who was not very sympathetic. He was perfectly happy being a puffin on the open sea, and couldn’t understand why Lewis wanted a change. When Lewis thought up his best idea yet, Harris just laughed.

Harris laughing

“A circus clown?” squawked Harris. “You’re right – you would be perfect! You’re always tripping on your big feet and everyone laughs at you already.”

sad puffin

It was true that the other puffins made fun of Lewis. He really didn’t belong. But when he finally got to the circus…

pufin juggling

…he fit right in!

This was the kernel of my first puffin book, Lewis Clowns Around. If you know the book, you’ll know that a lot more happens to Lewis once he starts work as a circus clown.  It was the first children’s story I wrote, and for that reason it took a good deal of honing and reworking before it could be shared with publishers. Even then, it was another four years before it finally found a home at Floris Books. That’s why the most important quality a children’s author must have is patience!

It was all worth it in the end, as Lewis has since inspired two sequels, Harris the Hero and Skye the Puffling. And this year Lewis Clowns Around is getting a lovely new cover. Although I enjoyed doing the original line drawings of Lewis and Harris, I am very pleased that Gabby Grant and Jon Mitchell were chosen to illustrate the finished books.

And now I think it’s time I rummaged in the kitchen for more inspiration…

Patrick for invoice

The best thing about being a picture book writer is seeing your ideas come alive in the hands of a talented illustrator. Two of my stories are in the process of being illustrated just now, and it’s very exciting for me to see the way they are going to look!

Most of my stories start with a central character, and that was certainly true of Pink! which was illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain. She cleverly captured the personality of a little penguin called Patrick who woke up one morning to discover he had turned bright pink.

Patrick and pals

Margaret has also illustrated another of my picture books, I Do Not Eat the Colour Green. In that story I imagined a determined little girl called Marlene with curly red hair (I’m not sure why) and this is what Margaret came up with:

Marlene McKean

She does look very stroppy, doesn’t she? Luckily the story ends with a smile as she discovers she does like green things after all.

Another illustrator whose work has been the perfect complement to my stories is Gabby Grant, who illustrated my two puffin books, Lewis Clowns Around and Harris the Hero. She is brilliant at drawing animals, so she was the right choice for these two books!

cute acrobats.jpg

Lewis and Harris are puffin brothers, but Lewis decides he belongs in the circus. Here you can see him performing with his fellow clown Karla the Koala. When Lewis flies off to town, his brother Harris is left all alone. Feeling lonely without a friend, Harris decides to go on his own adventure, which of course ends happily!

Harris on his own

Gabby has managed to show Harris looking sad here, which is no mean feat when it’s a stripy-beaked puffin! She is also very good at painting water and clouds, and I especially like her bird’s-eye-view angles.

Another book whose illustrations I was very pleased with is Jacob O’Reilly Wants a Pet. I didn’t really have an idea of what Jacob should look like, but this story was also full of animals (a whole range of pets) which illustrator Lee Wildish has drawn with lots of humour.

Jacob O'Reilly

The publisher decided the cover should have a walrus in the bathtub (one of the pets Jacob asks for) and it’s quite a good choice I think!

Authors don’t often get a say in who the illustrator will be. Sometimes if we’re lucky we get to see a few sample drawings and say which style we prefer. As the book is being illustrated, we can usually see the rough pencil sketches of each page and help check the text to make sure no mistakes have crept in. Later we get to see the colour “proofs” and at that point it’s pretty much too late to make any changes.

Last week I was sent rough sketches for two of my books, which was very exciting! The first is a book all about healthy eating which is called Never Bite a Tiger on the Nose. The illustrator is Eilidh Muldoon and she has done some lovely things with all my characters who are trying to eat tigers and alligators and elephants!

Abigail and Crocodile

I love the way Eilidh creates sweeping curves in her illustrations. Here we have a little girl called Abigail who wants to eat an alligator’s tail. There are also children called Emmylou, Humperdink, Lola Rose and Leopold.

veg and fruit baskets

As you can see, Eilidh has done some charming sketches of all the healthy food these children should be eating, and I think the book is going to look great when it’s done! Take a look at this clever little monkey:

monkey with banana

Once the book is finished it will be given out to preschool children across Scotland as part of the Scottish Book Trust’s Bookbug scheme. I can’t wait!

The other book that’s in the works is called One Potato. This was inspired both by the healthy eating theme and by a special request from a boy in P4 at Comely Park Primary School where I am Patron of Reading. One afternoon when I was visiting the school, Kofi put up his hand and told me that he and his friend Adam were writing a story about a runaway potato and an eagle. He asked me to write one too, and I agreed, thinking it would be a good exercise.

When I finally got down to writing my potato story, I decided to start with the rhyme, One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four. When the story was finished I sent it to Kofi’s teacher and the whole P4 year group spent some time doing illustrations for me!

One potato, two potato, three potato, four. Nice and cosy underground, they don't know what's in store...

One potato, two potato, three potato, four.
Nice and cosy underground, they don’t know what’s in store…

Suddenly a farmer's fork comes down to dig them out. They roll around upon the ground - what can this be about?

Suddenly a farmer’s fork comes down to dig them out.
They roll around upon the ground – what can this be about?

Then one by one they're tossed inside a bucket made of tin. Clatter, clang, bump and bang, we hear them going in.

Then one by one they’re tossed inside a bucket made of tin.
Clatter, clang, bump and bang, we hear them going in.

Thanks to Willow Reed, Olivia Kinloch and Abby Reid for providing those three illustrations. (There were lots more, so I’m sorry not to have room for them all here. I keep them all in my special Comely Park Primary folder).

The potato decides he does not want to go into the soup pot, and he rolls into the garden and tells the farmer’s wife she should put some other vegetables in her soup instead. She chases him all around the garden but he is too quick for her, and as he rolls down the road he says, “Nobody’s cooking me!”

I was delighted when my potato story was picked up for the Collins Big Cat series, so I have Kofi and Adam to thank for that! The preliminary sketches for One Potato are looking great, so I’ll let you know when that one comes out. The illustrator they have chosen is brilliant, but more about that later…

There are so many wonderful children’s illustrators out there that I could write about it all day! Maybe the next blog post will be about all the artists I would like to illustrate my stories. Seeing these two books come alive has certainly inspired me to get writing more!

Most of my story ideas start with a character. Inspiration can come from all sorts of places, especially from the animal world. Did the picture above make you laugh? Can you imagine the sort of personality this macaque monkey might have? She is clever, for one thing, since she figured out what a wildlife photographer was doing and grabbed his camera to take this self-portrait! If you were writing a story about her, what would you call her?

Once you have a name and some idea of what your character is like, you can start thinking up a story. What other sort of mischief might Millie the macaque monkey get up to? I think she would definitely be a naughty character, so she is bound to get into trouble! But because she is good at heart, everything would work out okay in the end.

What about this guy? He looks a bit mean, I think. I would call him Orville and make him bad-tempered and rude. And that is because he is hard and scaly and has a mean expression. Perhaps in reality he is a very sweet tortoise!

Here is another interesting individual. He is a type of toucan with intense blue eyes that stare unblinkingly at you. It’s hard to work out what he might be thinking. Is he friendly, or will he bite your finger? The shape of his beak makes him appear to be frowning, and it looks hard and sharp. His blue claws are also a bit scary looking. What sort of story might you write about him? Perhaps he feels misunderstood and really wants to be a tap dancer!

A while ago my family and I were stuck in the middle of nowhere when our car broke down. We found a place to wait for the AA man to come and rescue us, and took some pictures of this surprising sign. Adult swans can be quite aggressive, so someone must have put up this Swan Alert because of the baby swans (cygnets). A mum will always protect her babies, so it was a warning for people not to get too close! Perhaps that might inspire a story about a mother swan and her little ones.

I get ideas for characters in lots of strange places. I saw these lovely quilted owls in a gift shop in St Andrews. Don’t they look as though they’re terribly curious about the outside world? I’m sure if you gave them names and distinct personalities a story would not be far behind…

Here’s something you don’t see every day. These angel sculptures are suspended from the ceiling in the cathedral in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Thanks to Doctor Who, they remind me of the weeping angels that get closer and closer with their big fangs each time you blink! They look like they’re swooping down ready to pounce. But if you look at their faces, these angels seem sad, as if they are caught on those wires, suspended in mid-air and unable to escape. Perhaps they are gentle, unhappy angels after all. What do you think?

This last picture shows my children making silly faces behind some flat Victorian costumes on a little model train carriage. They had fun pretending to be posh Victorian train passengers on a day out. That’s another way to create characters for a story – imagine going back in time, or forward into the future! Once you’ve got your characters, just let your imagination fly…

Not long ago my daughter Anna decided she would enter a competition to design and create her own picture book. The competition was being held by the Reading Zone, and entries were to be judged by the amazing author and illustrator, Nick Sharratt.

Anna has always loved drawing cartoons, and a while back she had come up with a clever and heroic character called Bea who was, naturally, a bee. In a little yellow notebook she had drawn thirteen comic book adventures in which Bea had to tackle all sorts of evil foes. The titles included Bea and the Terrible Bee-Eating Toilets, Bea and the Rabid Rollercoaster, and Bea and the Dentist of Death!

Here is the cover of her comic book. You can see the amount of detail Anna always puts into her drawings. I particularly like the bee ferris wheel!

Inside, the comics are all drawn on lined paper, and Anna’s little insect characters are full of expression and doing wild things. Here you can see Bea triumphing over the terrible bee-eating toilets:

One of the original stories in this comic book was called Bea and the Giant Evil Marshmallow. Anna decided that would be the story she would turn into a picture book for the Reading Zone competition, and she set about drawing furiously!

It took a few days for her to draw and colour the 24 pages required for the competition. She changed the title to Bea and the Marshmallow Menace, and you can see the cover at the top of this post. Below is the moment when Bea saves the day, with worrying consequences…

We packaged Anna’s book up carefully and she sent it in through her school. Then there was a very long wait. You can imagine how thrilled she was when the Reading Zone people announced the winners, and she had won first prize in the senior school category!

The prizes are the most exciting thing of all. Anna has received 50 printed copies of her book, her school will receive a collection of picture books for their library, and an author or illustrator will come to the school as a special event!

Anna has been invited to read her story to the nursery and Primary one classes, and in preparation she has made a little Bea toy to take with her. Isn’t she the cutest thing? She is made with a yellow sock, bits of a black sock and braided black wool for her arms and legs. Her antennae are made from a black paperclip, and her eyes and shoes are made with Fimo baking clay. I just hope the children won’t pull her legs off!

Update: Anna had a lovely time with the nursery children at her school, who seemed to really enjoy hearing her read the Bea story. She visited two nursery classes and four P1 classes, and had a great time being a visiting author!

Anna never stops drawing cartoons. Here are two more:

©Anna Rickards 2011

©Anna Rickards 2012

I think she should start a cartoon blog of her own. There are lots of brilliant illustrators’ blogs out there to inspire her. Maybe one day she’ll take the plunge!

Sure enough, Anna has got into cartooning in a big way. You can see her pigeon characters Frank and Howard on her Instagram site HERE.

Today some final proofs came in the post for my next picture book, Clementine’s Smile. It is a Collins Big Cat book designed for readers in Year 2 (aged 6 and 7) and it’s another rhyming story (since I love to rhyme!) As you can see, Simona Meisser’s illustrations are colourful and fun.

It all began last year when a new person moved in next door to us. Her name was Clementine, and my first thought upon meeting her was, “What a great name for a character!”

Naturally I set about writing a new story immediately. I decided that my Clementine would be a crocodile, and that she would have a pain in her tooth. (Our lovely neighbour Clementine doesn’t look ONE BIT like a crocodile, but she does have a very sparkling smile!)

Clementine the crocodile is lots of fun and is usually smiling. When one of her teeth starts hurting, her parents say she must go to the dentist, and despite her objections they make an appointment for half-past two. Many children are nervous about going to see the dentist, and Clementine is no exception. Later her parents have to search the whole house because she is hiding and does NOT want to go!

At last they find her and take her to the dentist, where she is a very naughty crocodile. I won’t give away the whole story, but let’s just say that the poor dentist has a tough time fixing Clementine’s sore tooth!

At the end of the book there are some handy tips for looking after your own teeth. We all should try to brush our teeth at least twice a day (or after every meal if you can manage it.) If a tooth starts hurting we must get to a dentist as soon as possible. The dentist can fix it more easily if you go straight away. It only gets worse if you leave it…

My book is just one of  many picture books about visiting the dentist. That just goes to show how important the subject is! Here are a few more examples you might like to try:

The Usborne First Experiences series has one about going to the dentist that you can see HERE.

The Tooth Book is a non-fiction book (full of interesting facts) all about teeth and how to look after them. You can see more details about it HERE.

My friend Vivian French has a series of books about the Buttons Family (published by Walker Books) which looks at all sorts of scary first experiences. Her book Going to the Dentist came out in July 2012, and if you want to know more about it, click HERE.

And one final book about dentists is from Child’s Play, a First Time book simply called Dentist. If you want to learn more about it, click HERE.

Having a healthy smile is very important! Imagine if you couldn’t smile at all – what fun would you be then? Taking care of your teeth will make sure your smile is as sparkling as it can be. Happy brushing!