Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Guest Blog Post from Deborah Fajerman, Author / Illustrator - "Do you need to have your own children to be a children's author?"

Deborah Fajerman, author/illustrator

We're very lucky to have a guest post today from author/illustrator Deborah Fajerman. Deborah specialises in stories for young children, chock full of humour and colour. We utterly adore her work so we're very pleased to have her aboard. Take it away, Deborah!

I used to worry that I wasn’t really qualified to write for children, because I didn’t have children myself. Deep down, I believed that official children’s writing could only be done by authors who were card-carrying child experts like parents or teachers. I thought that picture books should probably be signed off for publication by a panel of under-fives.

Despite my lack of credibility as a non-child-owning children’s writer, I managed to publish two picture books. I admitted my fears to my editor, who said that you didn’t need to have children yourself, you just needed to remember the feeling of what it was like being a child. She told me about the non-parents she worked with, who wrote picture books with great success. So that reassured me.

I now have two children, aged six and four. I would say that on balance, having them around is quite useful. Quite often we’ll be playing together when they say or do something so brilliant I just have to distract them from what we’re doing, by handing them a biscuit or something, and note down the idea on my phone, so I can nick it properly at a later date and put it in a story.

I’ve been obsessed with children’s books and cartoons since for ever, and while I was monkeying about on my part-time graphics degree it seemed to make sense to use the spare time when I should have been doing graphics assignments to draw rambling autobiographical cartoons and children’s books.

Once I started doing children’s books I felt a bit guilty that I didn’t actually know anything about children, but as my book was all about cows it didn’t seem to matter too much. I just thought of an idea, drew some funny pictures, and made up the words to go along. I just bloody loved doing it. I get the most enormous amount of pleasure from storyboarding, putting words in the right order with the pictures doing just the right thing… it’s almost embarrassingly fun. I don’t get out much, no.

Nowadays I spend quite a lot of time with various children, and have learned a lot about them during research trips to their natural habitats such as softplay and the park. While I do find it useful to see how they play and what kind of books they like, I would say that everything I write and draw still has to be satisfying to me. Wherever a story idea comes from, it has to chime with something in my head before I can turn it into something more.

For example, the other day my younger daughter wondered out loud if there was a spaceship on our roof, and for some reason this idea just struck me as so wonderful and mysterious that I just had to write it down. She says lots of other amazing and beautiful things but they don’t end up in my stories.

In an interview on Radio 5, Judith Kerr said that she finds it harder in some ways to create children’s stories now that she doesn’t have small children of her own. The Tiger Who Came to Tea, her most successful book, evolved from the bedtime stories she told her daughter about all the things she enjoyed the most, such as going out in the dark, and eating that elaborate tea with all the trimmings. That’s a pretty strong hint that if you listen to children, they’ll tell you the stories they want to hear.

Having children has changed me as a writer, obviously, because I’ve changed into a parent and I’m not the same person I used to be. I might be a better writer eventually because I have a live-in editorial board to test my work on. On the other hand I’m quite scared of my children’s brutally honest comments. I hardly ever show them something I’m working on before it’s completely polished, because I know that if I’m not happy with something they will pick up on it rrrright away. I’d say that on the whole, having kids isn’t a good investment if you just want free editorial advice: you’d be better off with a writing group and maybe a kindly nephew.

One nice thing about being a parent is that you’re pretty much immersed in stories and books, and being part of a child’s world of imagination really does help you to keep sparkling with ideas. People are always giving you picture books, I mean giving your children picture books, so there’s loads of inspiration right there on your own bookshelf. It could even inspire you to start writing down your stories. Telling stories is a natural part of parenting, and the best thing is to make up your own, like Judith Kerr did. Books can make stories seem rigid, like words set in plaster. The more people tell their own stories to children in their own words, the better.

Here's a Link to a Radio 5 interview with Judith Kerr talking about writing the Tiger who Came to Tea and how her daughter got her to put in all her favourite things