How did the idea for this story unfold?
When I sat down to write Mine!, I had no idea what my picture book would be about; I just knew that I was going to try to write one. I did my best to remember what it was like before I went to school, to sink into childhood memories and to imagine how I saw the world.
Fortunately, at that time I lived near my young niece and we spent many happy hours playing together. The first line, “Today, Kitty is a café lady” is very reminiscent of the beginning of our play together. My niece had a wonderful wooden toy cooker and we spent hours writing menus, creating pretend dishes and serving each other in our café.
I liked Kitty’s neat way of thinking as she sets up her café. I wanted to use alliteration so that each toy had its own sound (tea for Teddy in the tall cup). I have noticed the way children often like ‘rules’ about how play is conducted, and wanted to use this idea in the story.
The arrival of Lea in the story felt very natural. I loved her spontaneity and creative personality.
As I wrote, I had a strong idea that I was heading towards an important last word: share. Lea and Kitty would learn to share. I am the eldest child in my family, so perhaps this lesson was one I remembered keenly. Or maybe learning to share is a universal stage of development for us all.
Did the story change much from the first draft?
Not massively. The arc of the story came out quite easily and many pages were largely unamended. The main change related to the character of Lea – to begin with, she simply gave the wrong café utensils and foods to the wrong toy (according to Kitty’s rules). I wanted her to be more creative and playful in her suggestions for the running of the café and liked the colour that Lea brought to the game.
How is writing a picture book different from writing a book for teenagers?
Of course the audience for Mine! is very different to the audience for The Night Sky in my Head. The books are very different in subject and form. However, there were some similarities in the way I wrote both books. I really had to try to tune into my inner child or my inner teenager. I had to try to write and describe the world as each of these characters would see it, using the language that each might use, expressing the fears and frustrations and joys they might feel. The outcome was very different but elements of the writing process were very similar.
Obviously a picture book only has a fraction of the word count of a novel, but this makes writing it harder than you might imagine. Each word has to earn its place. There is no-where to hide and the story has to be very concise, yet still include character and the movement of a story arc.
Do you identify with the characters?
Yes! A little bit anyhow! I can be a neat-freak like Kitty, but I love being creative like Lea. And I have crazy curly hair like Lea too.