Thursday, August 11, 2016

Family Fun Day

Families - Join in the hand-puppet fun as I read and we act out my picture book story ‘Once a Creepy Crocodile’ at 10.30am at the State Library of Queensland, Brisbane, on Saturday 20 August. I will be signing bookmarks (and books – available from State Library Bookstore), doing free calligraphy and chatting with as many people as possible between 10am – 2pm.

This will be part of ‘The BIG Draw’ - a free and fun event for children, young people and their families with storytelling, illustration demonstrations and the opportunity to work with authors and some of Australia’s best illustrators. Help create the State Library’s longest storyboard.

No booking is needed. The event is organised by Children’s Book Council of Australia and Booklinks, together with SLQ.

‘Once a Creepy Crocodile’ was shortlisted for the ‘Book of the Year Award – 2015’ by Australian Speech Pathologists. It has been illustrated by Nina Rycroft and published by the The Five Mile Press and comes with a CD of the words sung by Rusty Berther. The rhyming text matches rhythm of Waltzing Matilda:

Once a creepy crocodile crawled toward a river bank,
He spied a baby brolga by a bottle-brush tree,
And his tail wagged and wiggled while he winked and grinned and giggled saying,
'Please come and join me for afternoon tea.'

'No!' squealed Echidna. 'Stop!' croaked the tree-frog,
'Run,' cried Koala, 'he'll eat you don't you see?' ... ...

I look forward to meeting some of my blog readers
Peter Taylor

Friday, May 20, 2016

Collectable Illustrations for Children's Books

In 1863, publishers Adam and Charles Black sold Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels in five editions – ‘The People’s Illustrated Edition’ in 5 volumes with 100 wood engraving illustrations and one prited from a steel printing-plate; ‘The Cabinet Edition’ in 25 volumes with one wood and one steel engraving in each volume; ‘The ‘1847’ Edition’ in 48 volumes in large type with 96 illustrations (each novel in two volumes for ease of use); ‘The New Illustrated Edition’ in 48 volumes printed in a new type-font with 1600 illustrations drawn by a range of artist members of the Royal Academy …and ‘The Library Edition’ bound in extra-gilt cloth in 25 volumes with 204 engravings by the most eminent artists of the time. They are advertised in this small Almanac (about half the size of a postcard) created and distributed by the publisher, along with description of other books by Scott with multiple editions:


With what delectation would prospective purchasers of Sir Walter’s books have surveyed the choices available! How eagerly they must have anticipated reading pleasure when they placed their order. 

The engravings for the volumes were printed on quality paper and with generous margins and sold separately . Would purchasers keep them safely hidden away, frame them or engage a hand-bookbinder to add them into the text and create volumes with sumptuous covers?



Mini-Posters of Quentin Blake's illustrations of Matilda are currently available for $12 Australian - or less in special deals.

I wonder if the ability to collect affordable copies of illustrations from a wide range of children's books would encourage book sales, reading and creativity? 

Peter Taylor 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

An Elephant Story from India

During WW2, my uncle, who was called Wag, was stationed at Arokonam (now called Arrakonam) in India, about 50km west from Chennai. This a Christmas aerogram that he sent to his sister Vera, my mother.

During his stay he paid for a temple elephant to take part in a parade. If anyone who reads this blog-post lives in India or has friends there who can tell me, I'd love to know which temple would have supplied the elephant and if the parade is still held today. Is it an annual event? 

When Wag returned to England at the end of hostilities, he took home elephant carvings of all sizes for his family. One was minute and enclosed in a hollowed manjadi seed, and he gave it to my mother and I now own it. Most seeds have 12 elephants in them, some up to 100 - but mine only has one carving. You get one wish for each elephant. I wonder if each person who owns the seed gets a wish. What would you wish for? This has been a stimulus for my new picture book story in progress.

Carving elephants this size strained the eyes of child workers so that, sadly, some lost their sight, and I've read that consequently the industry was closed down in the 1970s or 80s.  I'd also like to know:
  1. How old were the children who did the carving?
  2. Did they work from home or were they employed in workshops? 
  3. How much did they earn?
  4. What tools did they use?
  5. How did they do it? Did they have magnifying glasses or carve unaided?  
  6. Is it really true that the industry has been prohibited? I wonder if some people are disregarding any law and children are still being exploited with horrendous consequences because, if you put ‘elephant seed’ in a search on eBay, you’ll find quite a few for sale, and they are very cheap.
Any help will be very much appreciated!

Peter Taylor

Monday, May 02, 2016

Where Do Stories Come From - A Gift From The Universe

Many writers describe getting in the writing groove to such an extent that they feel that they are writing down a dictation. Similarly, some musicians also say that phrases appear to be fed to them by ‘mystic powers’ in the universe. 

After reading in a newspaper that the Australian home of Joe Bugner (the then national Heavyweight Boxing Champion) was burgled while he was away at a fight, I started writing a children’s story about a boy who found the stolen watch belonging to his racing driver hero, and tried to return it

At one stage, I wasn’t sure how to progress with it, and it was put on the back burner. 

Months later, I was homeward bound to Australia from the UK and checking-in at Heathrow airport. The clerk asked what I did for a living. I told him I was writing a children's story and how it originated. He smiled. I looked at his name badge. He was Joe Bugner’s son - and the plot suddenly became clearer. 

Co-incidence or ‘powers’ in the universe? 

Some places also seem to draw me to keep returning there as though I am owned by the earth – which is the belief of numerous cultures.

Have you ever been given a 'gift from the universe' when it was needed, but unexpected?

Peter Taylor

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Pioneer Spirit, The Scandal and Somewhere to Read

After years in the stationery, food and retail trades in Chertsey, outer London, my grandfather, Ernest Taylor, decided to abandon all that he knew to become a farmer - for which he had zero knowledge or experience. He was going to be a pioneer, and in 1912 he took a 100 year lease on 14 acres of land on the outskirts of Letchworth Garden City, a New Town that mainly only existed on the plans and 50 miles from the family home.

He invited two others to join him. One was Thomas Flaws, the son of the editor of the Bedfordshire Times newspaper, who also had 'limited' farming experience, to say the least. The other was Gertrude Matilda Beaumont, the daughter of the owner of the grocery store where he worked. Though Ernest asked her to marry him so that they could set up this venture together, she declined. She would live unmarried with them both first, to see if she liked the lifestyle.
This is Gertrude and Ernest on their Ner-a-car motorcycle.

Was this 'small-holding' going to be viable? Was it a wise decision, in 1912, for an unmarried young lady to move in with two men in an isolated house on the edge of civilization? The scandal! What did her parents say? What did the neighbours in London say? What was Erent and Gert's reputation in Letchworth? …And what a big change to leave a comfortable home with a maid to find that, at her new home, there was no flushing toilet, no bath, no hot water, no income, no mechanisation - just 14 acres of untamed land.

Gertrude eventually did marry Ernest. Ernest died when he was 95, and Gert at 99, in 1982. During the whole of their married life they never had a day when they were not sharing their house with someone else. Thomas Flaws lived there until he died - but in the meantime, on her death-bed, Gert’s mother had said to her, “Look after your sister, May”.

When May arrived on the doorstep of ‘Camp Holdings’, as the property was called, Ernest thought she was coming for a holiday, but she never left, never had a proper job and outlived them all.

The small holding never generated much income. Ernest visited the local auction each week and bought things as cheaply as he could – bits and pieces from which he could make his own cultivating equipment and old picture frames to rip apart for the glass to construct cloches curtains and furniture. At the end of the day, the auctioneer would say, “Will you give me a shilling for the bath full of rubbish, Taylor?” and Ernest usually did – more often than not it contained a bag of nails or something that would ‘come in handy one day’. The sheds increased in number. I remember the oil shed; the incubator shed; the goat shed; the egg shed; the wood shed; a workshop shed; the machinery shed; a shed for the horse; my father’s shed; and number 42 shed – yes, there had been more over the years that had fallen down.

Ernest and Gert grew rows of Mrs Simpkins pinks (carnations) that were picked and sent by train to the Covent Garden flower market, strawberries, vegetables and a large apple orchard with loganberry and blackberry bushes between trees, and they bred chickens. When I was a child they must still have had a good number of hens because there were often 20 - 30 dozen  eggs on stacked trays, though one client was noted for cycling miles to the property to buy just a single egg.

Up until the 1950s my grandfather delivered eggs, fruit and vegetables to some families in the immediate neighbourhood by horse and cart, when he would hoist me on to the seat next to him. Most customers had kept food scraps for him to feed to the chickens, some of which were enclosed in a special run, while others roamed the orchard, along with geese - the subject of a picture book story I'm writing for children.

For the majority of families just after WW2, eating chicken was a Christmas or Easter treat, and for the week leading up to the celebrations, the birds would be killed, cleaned, plucked by hand until the shed was waist high with feathers and trussed – tied up with string to enhance their appearance and help them cook evenly. All transactions were by cash, and a box was kept on the window ledge – the money from sales being put into the box, and whenever anyone wanted to buy anything, they just took whatever they needed.

But Gert liked her independence and some money of her own, had a greenhouse built, developed close to half an acre of immaculate flower beds around the house and sold bunches of blooms to passers-by en route to the cemetery which bordered the land.

Gert and Ernest leased the right-hand half of the house

She also bred Angora and other rabbits for their fur, and prepared some of the pelts and sold them to the glove factory. If born in the present era, I’m sure she would have been an internet marketer or some kind of entrepreneur.

In the days before TV and especially in the winter, May and Gert spent their evenings either doing embroidery or studying bulb and plant catalogues - most of Gert’s income was given away or used to buy plants. As soon as spring arrived, she spent her time gardening, but it was nice to relax, too - lazing in deck chairs on the lawn or snug in the summer-house she constructed – but then one day a Romany gypsy parked her caravan on the road outside the house. It wasn’t long before a deal was done. And just like the Jeep adverts of today, all her friends and family said “She’s bought a what?”, but nodded in approval.

Gert soon added all the essentials – books and magazines in the cupboards, a wicker chair and plenty of plump pillows – and we all pushed and pulled the caravan to the edge of the orchard, overlooking the flower garden and house. The house had become redundant.

The caravan soon became my favourite place to read, too.

Peter Taylor

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Where Do Story Ideas Come From?

At any one time, I usually have a couple of stories completed and ready to send to publishers and a number of others that I'm writing for children which are in various stages of being written, re-drafted, edited and polished. At present, there are five unfinished stories on my desk, and some non-fiction, with plenty of work to do on them all. It will take months, if not years to have them in a state I consider ready to send out into the publishing world. I do not need to start any more! Some stories have already been neglected for too long. And our house needs repainting and the garden rejuvenating. So I don't go hunting for ideas for new books - but some just seem to leap out and grab me.

Recently I was looking through boxes of old photos. I took this one of my grandfather way back in about 1965. One day, a wild owl swooped into his garden and struck up a friendship. We called it Ollie and 'he' stayed for months and would sit on the hand, shoulder or head of anyone who visited, and he roosted in a rickety shed in the orchard. Ollie would even enter the house through my grandfather's bedroom window and perch on the end of the bed.

This is Mrs Bishop, the next door neighbour with him. The local newspaper sent a reporter to meet Ollie and a photographer who took this picture. Ollie had become 'The Most Famous Owl That Ever Lived In Letchworth Town'. Hey, that could be adapted to be a book title!

Where did he come from? Why did he show so much friendship to humans? Maybe the story should be 'Ollie - The Loneliest Owl In The World' and about hunting for a friend...

The truth is that Ollie was missing from the shed when we looked inside one morning, and we never saw him again - but that's not how my picture book story ends. Stories based on fact are usually improved by creativity and not making them completely factual. After at least twenty draft versions, the text is getting closer to an end-point that I'm happy with - though whether it will ever be published is far from certain.

Another story was started after reading a newspaper article ...but I'll tell you more about that another day, in a new blog post.

Have you had story ideas find you when you weren't looking for them?

 Peter Taylor

Friday, July 10, 2015

Hang in there and keep writing, reading and submitting your stories

Yay!!! My picture book 'Once a Creepy Crocodile' illustrated by Nina Rycroft and published by the Five Mile Press has been Shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Australia's '2015 Book of the Year' Award for 3-5 year old children, as a '...quality Australian book that helps children get the best, most literate start in life and which encourages a love of reading'. Thank you! (And the award also recognises the important work that Speech Therapists do to help children.)


To celebrate, I've purchased more hand-puppets of animals featured in the story. Apart from this collection already used in presentations, I've ordered '...gorgeous grubs to eat - munchy crunchy crispy ones that curl up underneath', including a caterpillar...

  ...and a pill-bug...

There are other very worthy contenders for the award, and a lot of sleeps will be had before the winner is announced in mid-October. Of course, I'll keep my fingers crossed that mine wins, but it's absolutely wonderful just to have received recognition that it's a quality book. And it's my first traditionally published picture book, too! - though I have had five non-fiction books for adults and children published as well

But climbing the ladder to success with a picture book has been a slow process.

All writers start unpublished. For me, the early years of writing for children were considered an apprenticeship. You learn by writing and making errors of judgement (not by thinking about writing) - and guidance has been vital. I did my first correspondence course with accompanying homework and feedback in 1998 and followed that by a paid mentorship. Workshops, articles, websites, conferences, masterclasses, forum and network group posts, video tutorials and more have all added new insight. Enlightening, too, have been the opinions of other writers on my works in progress and those stories I've considered 'finished' ...but which actually needed reconsidering and changes.

Paid appraisals by editors at conferences have been phenomenally helpful in my development as a children's writer.

Not all stories have to be published to be worth writing, but neither knowing all the theory of how to write picture books well, or even actually writing well, guarantees traditional publication, if that's an aim.

It is wise to read hundreds of the latest books published 'like your story'. They will not only give you an appreciation of word use, but they will also be a guide to the current taste of each editor and publishing team. (Or at least, what their taste was three years before the book was released - staff change ...and two or three years is often how long many books take to be developed and printed, once the text has been accepted. The team's taste will almost certainly be different from what it was 10 years ago - do read older acclaimed books, but particularly those only a year or two old.)

Which publisher releases books with the same number of words as yours?

Do they publish books of the same reading level as yours and with similar subject matter?

Does your story fit current trends? If 'pirate' stories are popular now, the chances are that you are too late to write one to get in on the publishing action - by the time it has been edited, illustrated and printed, the fad will almost certainly have changed.

So how do you discover current trends and editor preferences? Answer: Research agents and read their blogs, posts and website news. These will tell you what stories they have recently sold and to whom. You may find that mermaid stories are popular, or 'groovy grandparents'. If they have just sold a 'grandparent' story to a publisher, almost certainly that particular publisher will not want two books on the same theme and they will reject a 'grandparent' story that you submit no matter how good it is - send it to a different publisher on your list.

Yes, over the years I have submitted many stories that publishers have liked, but the stories were 'too long'; 'too short'; ' this time we are looking for counting books for an older readership'; ''Just-So' style folk stories are not in vogue at present' ...and experienced the bad luck factor - 'We love this story, but we've just accepted one on the same subject, and will not be publishing another.'

With the current trend for many editors not to reply if they have no place for your story, it is hard to know how far away from acceptance you are. Rejections are not automatically a sign that your writing is not worthy of publication, and literary tastes are personal not only of editors, but also of sales teams. If a sales team has no enthusiasm for a story and doesn't believe they can sell effectively, this may also seal its fate.

If you have met an editor at an event or conference, it is still not certain but much more likely that when you submit a story to them in the future, they will tell you why your story was rejected. 'Once a Creepy Crocodile' was once rejected for being too short ...and so was lengthened before the next submission.

I'm not sure when 'writing apprenticeship' actually ends, but the support of 'writing and illustrator buddies' in the lean years has helped me keep at it - keep writing and submitting.

You have to keep at it and hang in there. Never give up. Your story needs to arrive at the right editor's desk at the right time.

And I wish you a full measure of good luck!

Peter Taylor
Writing for Children