After each of the five picture books I have written I have sworn Never Again. It is too soul destroying watching a huge percentage of my carefully chosen words being deleted as quickly as you can type Back Key, as the pictures take over and replace the words on the pages. Intellectually, I understand this clearly, but deep, deep down I hate the idea. I am well aware there is no need to say it was a dark and stormy night in the text, then have the illustrator paint in a dark and stormy night as well. That is just ramming home an unnecessary message. I know the story in a picture book is told using a mixture of words and pictures that complement each other, but still it seems like such a waste staying up late at night or soaking in hot bubble baths thinking up carefully worded sentences just to see them replaced by a few clever squiggles and dollops of electronic water paint.
For a little while there it looked as if The Last Viking was going along the same lines and I could feel the enthusiasm for MY book beginning to wain as much of my creation was being taken over by an astonishingly talented new artist working on HIS book . What could I say? The early roughs were looking brilliant, the pictures were far better than those I had in my head, the main character was a cute as a box of starving Christmas kittens and, most importantly of all, James and were having such fun working together, comparing notes, swapping suggestions and tweaking the story together. Even Cate, our editor at Fremantle Press was getting increasing enthusiastic about it. She had read the first draft at her kids’ school to a great response and her son was on side and making clever suggestions. And all the while the original text was slowly dwindling away to a few well chosen words. That might suit some writers but I’m not of the minimalist Hemingway school. I like descriptions, texture and lots of fine, well-rounded words. (I bit like me I suppose.)
Then it occurred to me. Stop trying to show off. Everyone knows you are a smart-arse. Cate is always telling me there is no need to constantly prove how witty, clever, humorous or well read you are; just get on with the story. It slowly dawned on me that although half of the text has disappeared my ideas are all still there. And that is what we have, ideas from James, Cate (and Rufus) and myself there on the 32 pages, but just in a format that is immensely appealing and accessible to reader of all ages. So now that most of my work is done and as James really gets stuck into colouring all the illustrations over the next few weeks, I can sit back, smile contently at how well it is progressing, and this time I will not be saying Never Again.
And James, when it is all over and The Last Viking is published and we are the proud creators of my favourite book so far, I promise to stop treating you like one my little brothers and teasing the living daylights out of you. I might ease up on the bullying as well. Maybe. The Norse Gods may be watching after all and they will probably be on your side considering how you have depicted them on page 13.
This picture is of William Rufus, King of England