Picture Book Writing Tips – Alison Reynolds Shares her ‘Marmalade’ Story

Today I am thrilled to welcome my very special crit buddy and great writerly friend, Alison Reynolds to DeeScribe Writing.

As well as being a fantastic crit buddy, Alison is the author of over 30 books for children and adults.

She’s here to celebrate the release of her wonderful new Picture book, A Year With Marmalade. It’s a very cute book with a compelling story and wonderful illustrations by the very talented Heath McKenzie.

I’m going to start with a review of Alison’s new book, but I have to warn you that I may be biased on several counts: I love Alison and Heath’s work and I love cats.

But I have seen A Year With Marmalade develop from a three simple elements; girl, a cat and a picture of autumn leaves, into a heartwarming story about friendship and change.

Ella’s best friend Maddy is going away for a year and she asks Ella to look after her beloved cat, Marmalade. But Ella and Marmalade don’t exactly take to each other and they both miss Maddy.

Over the course of the year their friendship blossoms like the tree in Ella’s garden. When Maddy comes back, Marmalade manages to slot perfectly into both Maddy and Ella’s lives.

In A Year With Marmalade, Ella and Marmalade’s friendship mirrors the four seasons and all the changes are beautifully depicted by illustrator, Heath McKenzie. I fell in love with the gorgeous, green-eyed Marmalade – a cat with attitude.

A Year With Marmalade is published by The Five Mile Press. It’s a great book to share with young readers and to invite discussion about friendship and change.


DeeScribe Writing is Alison’s first stop on her blog tour to celebrate the release of her new book.

During the tour, she’s running a competition so you can win a FREE copy of this special book just by sharing a picture showing the personality of a special cat in your life.

Here’s what to do:

Marmalade’s   personality really shines through in Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie’s newest picture book A Year with Marmalade.

Share your favourite picture showing your cat’s personality to win. The winner will receive a signed copy of A Year with Marmalade and a copy of the picture book Lighty Faust the Lion, a book about a much bigger cat.

Share your favourite picture of   your cat by uploading it to author Alison Reynolds’ Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/alison.reynolds.524 or email it to Alison as a low res jpeg file at alrey@msn.com.au and she’ll upload it on her website www.alisonreynolds.com.au

Entries close on the 1st of   September.


Today, Alison is sharing some of her favourite picture book writing tips.

Five tips for picture book writers

1.  Be prepared to do lots and lots of drafts.

I often start with a vague idea and play with it and see what emerges. Often I find that I end up with a totally different story, which is always better than my first try. A Year with Marmalade started with a little girl, the seasons, jealousy, a cat and a bird. It morphed into a cat, two little girls and a story of friendship and that change isn’t always a bad thing!

Themes seem to have a habit of emerging as the book improves.

2. Learn to think in double spreads and the physicality of a picture book.

Think of each spread as a scene, and when you turn the page the curtain closes and there’s a new scene on the next page. I buy visual diaries and copy my words in them so I can check on the flow. I also always write illustration guidelines. This helps me check that there is actually something different to illustrate on each spread.

3.  Don’t have too many words!

You have pictures to help tell the story too! Make the most of it. I cut A Year with Marmalade by one third, and it improved it! I like to see how low in word count I can go.

4. Don’t submit too soon

I like to live with the picture book for a while and peck away at it, removing a word here, or changing a word there. I wrote a completely different story first, and then an entirely new one that ended up being A Year with Marmalade.

5.  Find a great crit partner.

My crit partner always improves my books. (Thanks, Dee.) I tend to complicate things. In A Year with Marmalade, I needed to make the cat climb up a stile over the fence. Why wouldn’t the cat just jump over anywhere? So I was starting to think barbed wire, booby traps etc. The brilliant Dee suggested a cat-flap. This is my favourite part of the book.


You can follow Alison and Heath on tour as they visit these great blogs:

Blog Tour

7th  August  Dee White


9th  August  Karen Tyrrell


11th August  Tania McCartney


13th August  Pass It On


14th August  Kathryn Apel


17th August  Dale Harcombe


20th August  Peter Taylor


22nd August  Susan Stephenson


23rd August  Robyn Opie Parnell


27th August  Sally Odgers


29th  August  Angela Sunde


31st August Chris Bell


16 thoughts on “Picture Book Writing Tips – Alison Reynolds Shares her ‘Marmalade’ Story

  1. Thanks Dee and Alison for this lovely post. I just love writing picture books and it is so nice to hear about Alison’s journey with this one – it looks like a gorgeous book. Congratulations!

  2. Looks like a two thumbs up! Alas I don’t have a cat, save a stuffed one, in my life but it won’t stop this pb fan from reading your book Alison. Wishing you and Marmalade all the very best.

  3. Ah. The beauty (and necessity!) of great critter buddies. Lovely to see a little slice of it in action, girls. (I love the cat flap too!) Thanks for sharing your great tips, Alison. I think you’ve nailed them – and you’ve certainly applied them, with this gorgeous picture book!

    I’m looking forward to having Heath and Alison on my blog. And all their little friends. 😉 (Meow)

  4. What great tips. Thank you, Alison. And a fabulous review. Thank you, Dee. I love the sound of A Year With Marmalade. I look forward to reading this wonderful book and hosting you on your blog tour, Alison. All the best to both of you, Alison and Dee. xx

  5. Oh well done Alison- a picture book- the ultimate and I appreciate the p/bk hints too- congratulations and all the best with the blog tour. Thanks for hosting Dee and hello from a very hot Irish day!!!

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