Wednesday, 29 February 2012

How long does it take to make a picture book?

Finally! This week I am picking up a box full of copies my picture book from the printers. I’m not sure quite how I am going to get them all home, but that is a minor practical issue compared with the obstacle course that has been getting this far.

This book really began when I went on my first writing course at Ty Newydd, the National Writing Centre for Wales. The course was entitled 'New leaves on an old tree; rewriting myth and legend.' I took along a short story I'd written that had the feel of a folktale about it, and got my first proper critical feedback from Kevin Crossley-Holland. He also advised me that if I wanted to use the story for a picture book, I had to reformat it fit 16 pages and edit it down to under 1,000 words.

It was on that course that I first felt like a writer, largely thanks to Kevin, and I took his advice seriously, cutting more than 50% of the word count and dividing the story into 16 chunks. At the time, this was incredibly hard. I wasn't used to this business of 'killing your darlings' but I forced myself, driven by my first tiny taste of self-belief.

I half-heartedly looked out for illustrators over the next couple of years, but I didn't really know what I was doing. I thought about submitting the words alone to publishers to find an artist, but I wasn't sure whether I wanted my words to end up accompanying someone else's images. I considered commissioning someone to do the artwork for me, but I wasn't going to be able to offer them much in the way of payment. Because the story was one of my first that I really felt pleased with, I was too attached to it to let the world take over.

Then in 2011 the talented Suzy Taylor taught me how to papercut at an evening class at The Make Lounge, and everything clicked. It was the perfect medium to illustrate a folktale, and I could sort of do it. That in itself was odd, given that my drawings are hopeless, but something happened when I held a knife instead of a pencil. It felt like a sign.

Sixteen papercuts later, I thought I was done. How I laugh at that innocent earlier version of myself. Since then, there have been photographing sessions, many weeks of grappling with versions of InDesign, forays into fancy fonts, print trials and proof copies, more InDesign tutorials from my patient brother, the kind of fury that only Windows print drivers can produce, and now, three years since I wrote that story, a book.

Where this story will go next, who knows? Some publishers will be receiving copies of my hand-made book in the post. If none of them like it, I might just get myself an ISBN and send it out into the world myself. For now, I’m happy waving it my self of three years ago and saying, you didn’t expect that, did you?