The writing of Hey Baby!
I have mentioned many times during talks to students and at presentations of all kinds, how long it takes to create a picture book. I particularly point out that Queenie took 4 years, 8 months from when I first learned about her, to when I held the book in my hands, My Friend Tertius took 10 years and I actually wrote Flame Stands Waiting before I ever heard of an elephant called Queenie or knew I’d write from my childhood memories, about the legend of The Dog on the Tuckerbox. So basically I am always sprouting on about how long it takes to write a picture book and how the best ones have few words.
I’ve been known to slash words and sentences as a book is going to print, why, because an illustrator has done such a wonderful job of illustrating, which means those words are no longer needed. In the end the fewer words the better.
In 2010 Maryann Ballantyne, Publisher at Black Dog Books, asked me to write a book for babies, a celebration of new life. So I wrote a book called ….The Wonder of You, and because it just felt right, I wrote, as part of the dedication, a letter from a mother to her baby.
My thought was of a mother writing to her baby, whispering softly to him/her about how precious, special and how much they were loved. I wanted to capture that moment of how a mother feels when she first holds her new baby close. That unbelievable instinct which grips a new mother – knowing for sure that nothing in all the world can be as important as this moment and also knowing that no other mother has felt exactly like this.
That 50 word letter from a mother to her baby, became Hey Baby!
I recall the night, when my husband and I were in the grand canyon to be exact, I received the first pages in an email. Number one, was that I was amazed what could be done with a sprinkling of words and some beautiful baby animal photographs, and second, when that email arrived, my husband and I had just come back from a walk along the absolute edge of the grand canyon and watched two, vacuum-cleaner-like grey creatures scuffle and shuffle across the path before us. It was almost dark and I remember exclaiming, what are they?
My reply email to Maryann was all about how serendipitous this was, like I’d just seen the first raccoons in my life and pretty much the first wild animals we’d spotted in the US and here they were waiting for me on the cover of my book.
The reply back again to me was, a question. ‘but do you like it?
So my worry with this book was that it didn’t take me 4+ years to write, or months or even weeks. The words took moments of writing from my heart and then, of course, lots of tidying up, moving about and refining.
So I rest my case. The fewer words it takes to tell a story in a picture book the better . . . remembering that the illustrations or photographs tell the other half and always less is more.
Hey Baby! became the first in a set of four books, Hey Mum, I Love You, Hey Dad, You’re Great and Hey Baby, It’s Christmas but I’ll write more about those in future blogs.
In May this year I travelled to the Pilbara with Marjory Gardner visiting remote schools – we presented to all ages and all class sizes – without doubt Hey Baby! was the book the students responded to.
And the original picture book The Wonder of You? Still lies in a bottom drawer . . . somewhere!