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).

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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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How to Plot a Picture Book without Losing the Sparkle

20 09 2015

scbwi-celebrate-clareToday we have another wonderful picture book author who’s sharing her tips on plotting. I’m excited about Clare Helen Welsh’s release, Aerodynamics of Biscuits, and thrilled that she’s willing to share her expertise with us. Welcome, Clare!

How to Plot a Picture Book without Losing the Sparkle

by Clare Helen Welsh

Those of you who read my interview with Minty author, Christina Banach,  will know that plotting is not something I consider a strength of mine. I often start with a title, like to write spontaneously and would definitely describe myself as a ‘pantser’ as opposed to a ‘plotter;’ a writer who “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don’t plan out anything, or plan very little (@Magic_Violinist, themagicviolinist.blogspot.com).

So who better to write about plotting than someone who doesn’t believe in it/ isn’t very good at it?

Thus, here I am! Taking a deep breath… and jumping head first into the mind field that is picture book plotting. This is by no means the only way to work but it’s served me well so far: How to plan the perfect picture book without losing the sparkle.

GpsTurn off the SAT NAV

There are lots of different plotting tools out there and the story arc seems to be as good as any, designed to streamline plot and ensure pace. But is planning every twist, turn and line before you start really necessary? Knowing your route inside and out is great on a long car journey but what about for a 32 page plot?

My theory is that planning your picture book in this detail before you start, will almost always result in a forgettable idea that’s been done many times before, since you are drawing on the inspiration from your outer most periphery of your brain. This is where the stereotypes and clichés lie. For example, a bear in a wood, a pig in mud. So where do the juicy, uncharted, award winning story ideas live?

To come up with something that has never been done before you need to bring together ideas that don’t normally go together, for example, a bear on the beach, a pig in an ice rink. Have you ever tried starting with just a premise? Ever picked up your pen and paper or word processing tool and begun your story without a map? You won’t know what’s going to happen from one to line to the next, but it will force you to think ‘outside the box’ and fingers crossed, you’ll come up with something original.
TigerPamela Butchart, author of Never Tickle a Tiger plans in this kind of way. She says she mostly knows where her story is going, but it allows for her characters to surprise her! However, it is important to keep the ending in mind. It might change as your story develops, but knowing your story outcome will help keep you and, your characters, on track.

penguinIt’s worth also mentioning that if you’re an author-illustrator like Helen Stephens, your story premise and ending might be visual. Helen’s inspirations come as one clear image.
plot hole

Plot Holes

Working in this way, you will inevitably come across some big, back all-encompassing plot holes, big enough to swallow your motivation in one fail swoop and stop you and your story in its tracks. Lucky you! For me, this is where the magic happens! Plot holes are an opportunity to break through the clichés and come up with a completely new idea like a bear in a train station (Michael Bond and Peggy Fortnum’s Paddington) or like a pig in a pond (Pig in a Pond by Martin Waddle and Jill Barton). If you listen to your characters, take risks and change route, even if it means rethinking your initial plan, your diverted story arc might well be more exciting, engaging and probably a lot more original, than your initial take on your theme.

Take the Scenic Emotional Route

And then comes the editing, which is essentially plotting in reverse. Whether you plot a lot, a little or not at all, your finished journey needs to leave the reader feeling fully satisfied. Now can be a good time to come back to your story arc. You’ve captured your original picture book sparkle, so now ensure the pace is such that we see trials, tribulations and disasters! Make us feel like there’s no way the main character is EVER going to reach their story goal; add in obstacles, heighten the tension, and then whip out your powerful, perfect resolution at the very last second, leaving us fully resolved and ‘wowed’ with the perfect pay off… so much so that we want to read it again.. and again, and again!

I wish you all a treacherous, eventful and holey writing journey to your perfect picture books! I’d love to hear more about how you plot your stories. Please feel free to share your experiences. Are you a plotter? Or a panster? Or perhaps a bit of both?!

Thank you, Laurie for the ‘plotting’ challenge and for the opportunity to blog as a guest on your site.

Thank you for being here, Clare, and for sharing such great information. Looking forward to your release on September 28!

biscuitsAbout Aerodynamics of Biscuits

Aerodynamics of Biscuits features Oliver, a five year old boy who sneaks downstairs in the middle of the night to find pirate mice stealing his biscuits! But Captain Sneaky McSqueaky and his crew are not eating Oliver’s biscuits… they’re making rockets! Aerodynamics biscuit rockets to fly to the moon to steal cheese! Ahhharrrr!

The book can be purchased in bookstores, through the publisher Maverick Books or on Amazon.COver

About Clare Helen Welsh

Clare lives in Devon with her husband and two children. She teaches in a primary school and has over ten years experience in Early Years and Key Stage One. In 2014 she became a Specialist leader of Education, supporting local schools to achieve high standards in phonics, primary languages and the Early Years Foundation Stage.

In 2013, Clare won The Margaret Carey Scholarship for Picture Book Writers and she received Silver Medal at The Greenhouse Funny Prize 2014 for her picture book, Aerodynamics of Biscuits, which is illustrated by Sophia Touliatou and due to be published by Maverick Books in September 2015.

Clare is represented by Alice Williams of David Higham Associates. Find out more about Clare on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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