Thanks for having me here today Dee, to talk about my new book… it has had a long journey to publication.
I originally wrote the first of the three stories as a picture book. I submitted it to my editor at the time but sadly it didn’t make it past the aquisitions meeting, so it went back to languish in a bottom drawer. The feedback that I got was that the voice was too old to be a picture book.
After a while, I took it out again, looked at it with fresh eyes and sent it off to another publisher. Again, it got all the way to aquisitions but was ultimately rejected.
Sue told me that she didn’t think it was a picture book either and that in fact, she had probably thought more about my book and analysed it than I had. She thought that it would actually work better in the format that Walker was bring out for early readers, with three short stories. I was asked to submit two other stories about the same characters, with a central theme. And eventually, that’s how it ended up.
So it’s always worth revisiting some old stories in a bottom drawer but also important to listen to feed back
How did writing ‘Our Gags,’ differ from writing a picture book?
It offered more flexibility in terms of the writing as I didn’t have to think so visually. I listened to the voice of the character in my head but didn’t need to be so conscious of pagination and whether or not there were the right number of pages and illustrations.
When I write a picture book, I’m very much thinking in terms of 16 openings and possibilities or opportunities for varied illustrations.
It also offered more opportunity for character development and plot.
Did you experience any difficuties in writing this book, particularly since it had started as a picture book?
At first, I found it difficult to get back into the character’s head. When I first wrote it, I really was almost in that position of being a mum with a new baby. By the time I had to write the second stories, the ‘baby’ was at school.
By the time the revisions came around, we had moved overseas and my girls were quite big! This isn’t unusual though, as often writers need to put works away until they can look at it with fresh eyes.
I also had to have a consistent style and that was something that I had to work at with the three stories. There had to be progression and development over those stories, while still keeping the same overall feel.
How true is the story and do you think that this is important in writing?
I like to write about things that I know, so my family often features in my books. This is the story of how my Mum used to come to help when I had a new baby and struggled with breastfeeding and juggling an energetic toddler. Caitlyn was sometimes babysat by a video, however, my Mum was great and would come and play with Caitlyn, while simultaneously managing to get all my washing off the floors, into the machine, onto the line, dried, folded and put away.
It’s not just about the cleaning though, it’s about the wonderful relationship that my mum formed with her grandchildren. They still love to go to their ‘Gags’ for a sleepover, grab a movie and have a girl’s night in. My mum is getting a bit tiredr but she can be a crocodile, or a horse as needs be for my little niece.
What’s important about all this in writing is that I am familiar with my characters and I’m writing about something I love.
Were there embellishments?
Mum did play great games at the park, including pirates and billy goat’s gruff.
However, she didn’t actually ever have a man think she was having a heart attack when she was pretending to be sat on by an elephant. Although she could do a great ‘death scene,’ complete with flailing arms and groans if the occasion demanded.
How do you find your ‘voice’?
I think you have to know your character from the inside out and be in their head. You have to hear them talking…although I don’t read aloud, I’ll repeat it in my head to see whether I think this is how a child would talk. Although I’m in the book as the mother character, I never actually saw myself as her funnily enough. I was always my little girl Caitlyn.
In terms of the voice for this book, I can now see what those early comments meant in terms of the age of the character. It is very important to own your character and see life through their eyes.
Thanks for sharing your Our Gags journey, Catriona. It’s a wonderful book about the grandmother every family needs. Some great tips too about voice and character.