I try to plan as little as possible, either in my life or my daily work writing and illustrating picture books as I have been doing since the publication of my book Pete and Roland back in 1981.
When home on a sick day from work I started penning a few words and pictures to a story happening in our house. It just seemed a good idea at the time, (and I can’t have been all that sick). It was certainly no career move, or anything like that.
A small parakeet had flown in exhausted over the back fence, our son Pete had put the bird in his hat; he called him Roland and Roland had a short but memorable stay with us. I had no ending in mind when I started but during the course of my making the pictures ….Roland flew out the window.
Well, of course there was my ending!
I took the small book that I made to the publisher William Collins, only because it was close to the bus stop on my way home from work, (you could do that sort of thing back then). To my great surprise they loved the book and published it, and the publisher said “can you do another story for us for next year?” And I replied, “I don’t think I can possibly think of another.”
And it is still going on pretty much like that 35 years later.
I have no formula for writing and illustrating stories. They start from a scrap of paper, a note, a memory, a certain look in a dog’s eye or a few words lying dormant in my notebook for many years. The pictures follow the words, or the words follow the pictures, or they appear at exactly the same time. The stories can start at the middle or the beginning or the end. It’s tricky to even know they have started. There is lots of looking out the window, lots of waiting. My advice might be to just turn the clock to the wall if you are going to make a picture book. Imagine me running
Workshops around that!
My most recent book, How the Sun Got to Coco’s House, started with a picture. Many years back I had made a story around a small girl and her imaginary adventures. Despite many weeks work and some quite developed pictures it just wasn’t working and it joined lots of other things in my bottom drawer, a drawer that sometimes provides spare parts for later books; sometimes words, other times, pictures. There was a drawing of a polar bear in that failed book that still lodged in my memory. So there’s where I started! I had my polar bear and I asked myself, (as I think do many authors in constructing their stories,) “what happened next?” Or also “what happened before?”
When I added a rising sun behind my bear and her cubs my story had a trajectory of its own. I just followed the sun that was following the night and it then seemed inevitable that it, the rising sun, would finish up busting right through Coco’s window on the other side of the world.
And that event happened a long way from where I usually find my stories i.e. within arm’s reach of my desk down here in Australia.
Bob Graham is the author-illustrator of many extraordinary books for children, including How to Heal a Broken Wing and The Silver Button, about which School Library Journal said in a starred review, “Graham celebrates what can happen in a single moment and reminds readers to pause and observe.” Bob Graham lives in Australia.
GIVEAWAY INFORMATION (from Stacey):
This giveaway is for a copy How the Sun Got to Coco’s House. Many thanks to Candlewick Press for donating a copy for one reader. For a chance to win this copy of How the Sun Got to Coco’s House, please leave a comment about this post by Saturday, June 4th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Monday, June 6th. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Candlewick Press will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.) If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – BOB GRAHAM. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. Moolabell’s commenter number was chosen so she’ll win a copy of Bob’s book.