Tuesday Writing Tips Celebrates Gracie and Josh – More Picture Book Creating Tips with Susanne Gervey and Serena Geddes

After having so much wonderful feedback about the picture book writing and illustrating tips from Katrina Germein and Anthea Stead, I decided to run a series of posts about how to create picture books, and to feature some fabulous creators and their books.

gracie-and-josh page spread

gracie-and-josh-450Gracie and Josh

Written by Susanne Gervay and illustrated by Serena Geddes.

Gracie and Josh is a very special book about the bond between little Gracie and her brother, Josh who suffers from a serious illness.

This is such a heartwarming story celebrating the joy of life, and the bond between the siblings, and the inspiring way they deal with Josh’s sickness.

This inspiring story is full of optimism and hope and so poignant in its portrayal of what life is like for a seriously ill child and for the sibling who loves them unconditionally and just wants to make them laugh and be happy again.

Gracie and Josh  love playing together, and  they make a movie where Josh is the film make and Gracie is the star.

Gracie and Josh also celebrates differences in people and both the illustrations and text reflect a zest for living that’s infectious.

The popular children’s rhyme Incy Wincy Spider is woven cleverly into the narrative, symbolising the ups and downs of what Gracie and Josh are going through. It inspires resilience, and reinforces the importance of never giving up.

I loved the way the text of Gracie and Josh is so much in a child’s point of view and the reader can experience exactly what Gracie and Josh are feeling.

Serena’s joyous colourful illustrations bring light and warmth to a difficult subject.

Rather than focussing on illness and sadness, this book celebrates life and hope. Gracie and Josh is published by Ford Street Publishing.

Okay, so that’s the book … here are the great tips from the people who created it.


Susanne Gervay1. Have the courage to listen to editorial comment. That doesn’t mean you have to accept everything or anything. However the natural protective reaction of defending yourself and arguing that the editor (whoever it is) can’t see your creative point, is pointless. By the end, the editor will give up and say what you want to hear – ‘that is great work’ – or not say nothing at all. So your writing won’t improve or be the best it can be.

2. Writing about a deep issue. Many authors write for ‘worthy’ reasons. I want to write to make life better for kids and families myself. So I write against bullying like in I AM JACK; about sibling and mothers cope when a child faces serious illness like in GRACIE & JOSH; disability in the beautiful YA novel BUTTERFLIES. However, I write story first. The deep issue is the challenge. Create wonderful characters and then the reader will emotionally engage. Don’t make the fatal mistake about writing about the issue first. It makes readers turn away.

3. Enjoy and participate in the creative life. Go to writing networks. Belong to SCBWI and/or CBCA and/or ASA. I belong to all of them. I have developed friends there over the years. Writing is filled with disappointments as well as joys, so it’s wonderful to share the journey. Your networks will sustain you during times of rejection and buoy you in times of success.

4. Appreciate written responses from editors and publishers. if they didn’t think your work was valuable, they’d just write – it does not suit our list. If a busy editor/publisher responds it means they respect your work. You could even edit and resend it to that editor/publisher.

5. Don’t write for the market. Write because you are passionate about your story. The market will find you. ‘Gracie and Josh’ is about a child facing serious illness. That’s not a marketable topic. However ‘Gracie and Josh is so beautiful and joyous celebrating each day, celebrating siblings and parents. Serena Geddes who did the emotional and loving illustrations captured the joy and hope of childhood; the play; the love between siblings … It’s a very special picture book which has been embraced by parents, grandparents, children. VARIETY the children’s charity that provides for children with illness or special needs and supports their families, has endorsed Gracie and Josh, making the experience so special.


My 5 illustrating tips for Gracie and Josh

1. Understanding a multi layered manuscript

I speak like I know how this is done when actually, in this instance, I was rather stumped. I read Gracie and Josh at face value and in simple context, I was stuck with the direction of the story, my interpretation of it was stifled and this came through in my rough illustrations. It wasn’t until I sat with fellow illustrator Sarah Davis and author Susanne Gervay, that I saw the many depths and joy of Gracie and Josh.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

It’s easy to get so close to a project that you can’t see the story from the words. Of course I did what most creative people would do (well I’d like to think you all do this too) and I locked myself in my room and butted my head against a wall for a good 4 weeks trying to “get it”. A fresh set of eyes is a HUGE help and brainstorming or even just discussing your project with someone that is not as emotionally attached to it, will soon have you seeing it in a new light. It’s sometimes the simplest thing that can set you on your way.

3. Research

I approached Gracie and Josh in a very different way to any of my previous books. Dealing with ill children is not something Google or Getty Images portrays in its trueness so I volunteered to run some workshops and talks at the Sydney Children’s Hospital. You don’t have to be there long to see the struggle of parents here, but what over powered that sadness was the joy and life of the children in the ward. They know why they are there and they know where they would prefer to be, but it didn’t take long to see a side to them that I instantly fell in love with and later, near the completion of Gracie and Josh, did I realise how close to home this book was to my own childhood experiences.

4. If its too hard don’t do it…

I am chuckling as I write this… The above line has some truth to it as I worked through Gracie and Josh. In one sense if you don’t challenge yourself how will you improve, and if you don’t take on a project you’d normally do, how will you show your diversity?
I was asked to illustrate Gracie and Josh realistically…..not sure if you know my previous work, but I am rather cartoony (challenge one). Then I wanted to use colour to emphasise the emotion (challenge two) and then there was this voice in my head that said create different perspective, because I obviously know how to do that well, errr? …..(challenge number three).

After some redraws and tweaks, Gracie and Josh finally came together. A picture book that challenged me and a beautiful finished product that I am very proud of.

5. Book a holiday and turn your phone off:)

Thanks Susanne and Serena for your wonderful tips and for sharing your beautiful book. I’m sure it will help many families through difficult times and help others to understand what they are going through.

You can find out more about Susanne and her works at http://www.sgervay.com/ See more of Serena’s fabulous illustrations here.

I hope you found Susanne and Serena’s tips helpful.

More picture book writing and illustrating tips to come.

If you have any of your own you’d like to share, feel free to post them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and illustrating:)


8 thoughts on “Tuesday Writing Tips Celebrates Gracie and Josh – More Picture Book Creating Tips with Susanne Gervey and Serena Geddes

  1. Hi Dee, great interview. I look forward to reading ‘Gracie & Josh’. I particularly like Susanne’s writing tip that you need ‘to write the story first’ and if you create engaging characters the ‘deep issue’ will shine through. Happy writing to u 🙂

  2. Oh Dee this was a fantastic post. would live to read more like it. I was lucky enough to win a copy of this beautiful book. both Susana and Serena did a great job and are so inspirational. thanks to all 3 of you x x

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