How Rude!: Interview – Clare Helen Welsh

15 12 2018

Hi, Clare,

So happy to have this chance to interview you today. First of all, I love the humor in How Rude! And the illustrations by Olivier Tallec add to the fun.

Here’s Clare Helen Welsh. . .

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Can you tell us what inspired you to write this story?

How Rude! started out as a text called Don’t Poke the Penguin! I love stories that escalate in tension and then culminate in chaos. I could also see the potential for humour in a book where two characters were in conflict. Throw in a perfectly prepared tea party and you’ve got How Rude! My story was submitted to the team at Quarto by my agent, Alice Williams. It had a face lift under Quarto’s guidance, in which I rewrote it from third person narrative to dialogue only …and changed the animal, too! I’ve always wanted to write a dialogue-only text, so I was thrilled when the editor suggested we give it a try. I’m so pleased with the result!

Can you give some tips for writing humorous picture books?

I don’t think I’m a naturally funny person (my husband would agree!), but there is fun and joy to be found all around us, all of the time. In my experience as a school teacher, and a Mum to young children, there is never a dull day. I often write notes in my iphone; words, phrases, altercations… anything that tickles me! Picture books are definitely a team effort though; a culmination of the input from agents, editors, illustrators, art directors… who all help make the story the best in can be.

You’ve done a great job with minimal text. Do you have any tips for telling a story in so few words?

Thank you! Edit, edit, edit! All my picture book texts begin long, and then I cut, cut, cut leaving only the essential in.

If we look at the text alone, it’s hard to tell what illustrations might be paired with the words. Did you have illustrator notes?

Yes, I always include illustrator notes in my submissions, since I tend to think very visually and leave space for the illustrations to tell the story. I realise, though, they are a bit of a ‘marmite’ topic with industry professionals. But in my experience, if you only use them when they are essential, write them in a different colour and format them at the start or end of a spread (rather than in the middle of the text) they don’t put editors and agents off.

Did you and the illustrator have any contact while the book was in progress?

I often get asked this question, and it’s something I hadn’t really realised when I first became a writer. But no, all the communication and back and forth was via the editor and art directors.

What surprised or pleased you most when you saw the illustrations?

I loved the simplicity of Olivier’s work. He conveys so much with so little. He also had a unique style that was quite unlike anything I’d seen before in the UK.

What do you hope children will take away from the story?

In my job as a school teacher, and personally, I really value kindness and being considerate of other people’s feelings. Any story that helps children develop empathy and seeing things from somebody else’s point of view, is a story worth telling in my opinion.

Did you base your characters on anyone you know?

I can’t say that the story was inspired by any one particular true-life event or person. But certainly, family life and over ten years teaching experience provided plenty of material, some of which I’ve kept back for further Dot and Duck adventures!

Did you love to read as a child? If so, can you tell us some favorite books?

In all honesty, I don’t recall being an avid reader as a child. But there are a few books that stick firmly in my mind.

Burglar Bill, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

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Burglar Bill is one of my all-time favourite reads. It’s dangerous, just my kind of humour and the repetition allows readers to anticipate and join in with the story. This is certainly something I aspire to emulate in my texts. I also love the way that the dialogue reflects the characters. There’s no mistaking who is speaking; “That’s a nice toothbrush. I’ll ’ave that!”

As a writer, this is something I don’t find easy. I work hard to keep my authorial voice out of my character’s dialogue. Here’s Sneaky McSqueaky from Aerodynamics of Biscuits, illustrated by Sophia Touliatou; “Climb aboard! Let’s get some cheddaaaaarrrr!”

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‘Peepo,’ by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

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I also vividly remember reading Peepo at many a bedtime. Again, there’s the lovely language and repetition. But I also loved the interactive die cut hole, which is an important reminder of the reason I write picture books in the first place; to bring children and grownups together to share a special moment in their busy lives. I now use this book in schools to teach about the past! The detailed illustrations are a great talking point: coal shovels, bed warmers and war time uniforms.

If I can learn something from a book, then I personally love it all the more. I have a real interest in using books to help children deal with difficult issues. My first picture book with Little Tiger Press, The Tide, is a text to support children with a family member living with dementia. It publishes in the first half of 2019 and is illustrated by the incredible Ashling Lindsay.

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The ‘Mr. Men’ and ‘Little Miss’ Books by Roger Hargreaves

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I remember my Nan having a whole set of these books! My favourite was definitely Mr. Tickle, which I would come back to again and again and again. And what a perfect accolade for a book! To have created a plot so well formed and satisfying, that readers come back to it over and over.

How Rude! is a character driven story, too, which uses humour to tell a tale of kindness, manners and friendship. It gets more and more chaotic with every page turn but has that satisfying ‘awwww’ moment at the end as well. There are plans in the pipeline for more Dot and Duck adventures. I can only hope that these stories bring a snippet of the enjoyment I had from the Mr. Men and Little Miss books.

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When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I wrote ‘to write a book’ on a New Year’s ‘to do’ list in 2012. I love challenges, trying new things and being creative. I love lists, too! But I had no idea just how much I was going to love writing. It’s changed my life for the better and I wouldn’t be without it now.

Did you have any childhood dreams for when you became an adult? If so, did they come true?

I remember in early years, wanting to be a teacher like my Nanna 😊, which was a dream that became a reality in 2006. For a while, during my teenage years, I wanted to be an art psychologist, combining my love of Art and Psychology. In a funny kind of way, I feel like I have achieved this goal, but via a slightly different route.

What are you working on now?

I am currently trying my hand at writing non-fiction picture books. I’m also working on a chapter book for children aged 7 yrs+ about a practical and creative female inventor. I don’t know if anything will come of it, but I’m very much enjoying the challenge!

Can you tell us a bit about some of your other books?

My first picture book was called ‘Aerodynamics of Biscuits’ and was published in 2015.

I have six further picture books in development for 2019 and 2020.

I also write early readers for a very popular early reading scheme.
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Some random questions just for fun:

Did you ever run away from home?

Once! My Mum doesn’t remember, but I recall the whole two minutes vividly.

If you could have any pet in the world, what would you choose?

A hypoallergenic dog that didn’t set off my allergies!

When do you like to write?

Mostly late at night when my family are all asleep and there are no distractions.

Are you an early bird or night owl?

Both! I takes naps when I can.

What was your biggest fear? Did you get over it?

Speaking in front of a large group people. And yes, I enjoy it now …but I do prepare and power dress!

Thank you, Laurie, for a really fun interview and your interesting questions!

You’re welcome, Clare. You gave us some fun answers along with lots of inspiration. I know readers will be looking for this book. You can find How Rude! at Amazon and Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

clare

Readers, Clare shared some of her favorite picture books from childhood. What are yours?

Clare is a primary school teacher and children’s author who lives in the South West of England with her husband and two children. She writes a range of different picture books, including funny and quirky and sensitive and emotional, but always hopes her books bring a little added something to story time. You can find out more about Clare here on her website www.clarehelenwelsh.com  or by following her on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh. She also has a Facebook page. She is represented by Alice Williams at Alice Williams Literary.

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Painting with soft pastels…

10 11 2013

 

I was lucky enough to attend a talk by Caldecott winner, Erin Stead at the National Book Festival, and I was intrigued when she mentioned painting with pastels dissolved in water. At the time she was working on her second book, Bear Has a Story to Tell, written by her husband, Philip Stead. See some of the illustrations from the book here.

I thought I’d share these illustrated instructions for this technique. Enjoy!

me + art = 🙂

I got this idea from Erin Stead (Caldecott Award winning illustrator for A Sick Day for Amos McGee), and I believe she used this technique to create the illustrations for the book Bear Has a Story to Tell.

1.  Start with a small glass or plastic container (glass works best because plastic tends to stain).  I get ALL mine from secondhand stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army, and rummage sales or flea markets-I seriously find them every time!  Drop whatever color, or colors, of pastel you like into the container.  I love making my own colors, and its very easy to do that with soft pastel.

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2.  Add small amounts of warm water (you can always add more but its hard to take away)…

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3.  …until it starts to dissolve and look like this.

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4.  When you can see no sediment left on the bottom of the container, then its ready to…

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Great Review from Washington Post

26 04 2013

Students Making Sense of the World book coverJust found out that the Washington Post named this book an intriguing e-book. And called it “Surprising, uplifting, assertive.”

I’m thrilled to have art and a 6-word bio in it and to be included with art students of all ages who have a 6-word message for the world. I’d call many of their contributions insightful, intriguing, and inspirational. A book to remind you of your hopes and dreams.

More about the book from the Post article:

“Everybody has a story. What’s yours?”

From Smith’s grandfather, he learned that everyone has a tale — often funny, thoughtful, or moving. One he loves: “I still make coffee for two.” Another: “Mom’s Alzheimer’s: She forgets, I remember.” So, what IS your story?





Linoleum Printing and Coretta Scott King Award

20 02 2013

Ellen's Broom coverBecause this is Black History Month, I thought I’d highlight one of my favorites from the 2013 Coretta Scott King Awards. Ellen’s Broom, with art by Daniel Minter. I did mention it earlier in the month, but this time I wanted to explore the art a bit more closely.

Minter’s linoleum prints are painted with watercolor. After experimenting with lino prints this summer (see Jungle of the Night, 5th picture down), I now appreciate how difficult this medium is to work with. Artists who choose it know that they have a long process ahead of them.

First is warming and carving out the linoleum block. I found this the most difficult step, as you have to cut away whatever you don’t want to be printed. It’s the opposite of painting, because you’re taking away rather than adding. Getting delicate detail on the block without cutting away too much or leaving too much behind is a real art.

Once that’s complete, the block must be inked and prints pulled. Once the prints dry, the painting begins. If you make a mistake at that point, it means starting over. (And how do I know this? Don’t ask.)

Minter’s details are amazing, and deserving of the award.* But I also want to mention the great story by Kelly Starling Lyons. I’ve highlighted Kelly’s writing on my blog before, so if you’re interested in finding out more about her, you can read about her One Million Men and Me, which tells about her books and her childhood.

*Interesting fact: Did you know that only one book illustrated with linoleum prints ever won the Caldecott?





Inspiration for Art, Writing, and Life

11 01 2013





The Art of the Imperfect

11 07 2012

As I head into the second half of my summer grad courses, I’m thinking a lot about wabi-sabi. And although traditionally those words don’t necessarily belong together and the actual meaning doesn’t translate well into English, we’ve taken bits and pieces of the meaning to create our own concept. Part of wabi-sabi is finding beauty in imperfection. The old, worn, cracked have a special beauty all their own. Peeling paint, stained upholstery, threadbare carpet all tell a story. Life is lived; things have happened in these places.That alone makes them beautiful, but they also have a deeper beauty for those who take the time to study them.

If you can find beauty in a rusting wrought iron chair, a fallen tree, a cracked sidewalk then you have the eye of an artist and the soul of a poet.

Take a closer look at things that have lost their patina. What do you see? What events have occurred here? What joys and sadness do these pieces hold? What stories can they tell now that the shiny newness has worn off?

Many cultures also revere people as they age.  Although their outer coverings become saggy, wrinkled, and age-spotted, they look on the world with knowing eyes. They have learned skills, have gained knowledge and understanding, and have grown in wisdom.  Their inner beings have been tried by fire, that often leaves behind gold nuggets. What can they tell us about life? What life lessons have we learned ourselves from our years of living that we can share?

To my mind, wabi-sabi doesn’t only mean appreciating time-worn objects, it also means allowing for your own mistakes. It means seeing that which you are ashamed of, embarrassed by, discouraged by as openings. Openings that allow you to embrace imperfection, accept it, and love it. Give yourself the grace of appreciation. What can you find to appreciate about the mistakes in your life?

Expand enough to to allow for mistakes and you’ll grow exponentially. Fear of making mistakes often keeps us stuck in old patterns, habits, ruts. It keeps us from experimenting with new things or spreading our wings. If we leave the judgment behind and embrace our imperfections, we can soar to new heights.

Birds flying





Inspiration

20 07 2011

Somehow my vacations always seem to end up as working vacations. My husband could never understand why I didn’t consider camping a vacation. For some reason, cooking for all seven of us over an open fire or on a small cookstove while keeping an eye on smallfry who each ran in different directions, washing dishes under a pump, and spending the night on a slowly deflating air mattresses while being kicked in the ribs, head, and stomach by various sleeping offspring, never topped my list of summer fun. I usually went home more tired than rested, not to mention bug-bitten, sunburned, and sore.

So this summer I planned a different type of working vacation. I agreed to help teach writing sessions at an out-of-state university. I was expecting to come home exhausted and drained. Instead, I came back excited, energized, and eager to dive into my own creative work.

It probably helped that my destination was the Mazza Summer Institute in Findlay, Ohio. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Findlay University holds a fabulous weeklong conference featuring picture book authors and illustrators. The University is home to the famous Mazza Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of original picture book art.  From the early works of Randolph Caldecott to many of the latest award-winning picture book artists, Mazza has it all. Watercolors, oils, prints, collage, pen and ink, pastels, and every medium in between. Each piece of art hangs above a shelf with the picture book it’s printed in. For anyone who loves picture books the way I do, it’s an inspiration. So much so, that someday I hope to see my own work hanging on their walls.

So I spent a week co-teaching breakout sessions in between listening to famous illustrators give visual presentations on their artistic processes and tell about their lives. Even more fun was being around an audience of teachers, librarians, writers, and art lovers who enjoy reading picture books even when there isn’t a toddler within hearing distance. I felt right at home.