My sister was always drawing cartoons and pictures; I was always writing rhymes and stories. When my kids were young, she depicted our family as Simpson look-alikes and that cartoon still hangs on my wall. I wrote poems for her babies when they were born and these became treasured keepsakes. I suppose you could say that it was inevitable that our crafts would come together some day, but it took a world pandemic to make it happen.
I don’t know about you, but for me the first lockdown in March 2020 should have been a time of great writing productivity, but somehow was a period of despair and lack of focus. It was only when that sister, Olivia, said “I have less architectural work just now, so maybe I could finish the paintings for ‘the book’”, that I became enthused about resurrecting a project we had started years ago.
I had written a counting rhyme for a children’s 1,2,3 book and Olivia had completed some of the drawings. At that time, we had proposed it to publishers but no one was biting. As the years passed our children grew and two grandchildren arrived giving us a personal motivation.
What previously might have seemed like an obstacle – she lives in New York, I live in Dublin – was suddenly no bother in the new land of Zoom. In addition, I moved to Sherkin Island in West Cork for the pandemic winter but still that posed no problem with our good internet connection.
So, I had the script and Olivia was working away on the paintings, now we needed to take it to the next stage. I joined C.B.I. (Children’s Books Ireland) and attended an excellent one-day workshop, online, on writing, illustrating and publishing for children, run by West Cork Literary Festival, (which is my favourite lit fest in real life). I also attended an online Writers and Artists workshop on children’s picture books, run by Bloomsbury Publishing which added to my growing understanding of the industry. What was coming across to me was that publishers prefer to receive a script from a writer and match it with one of their own illustrators. This is not what we had in mind for our particular project. I listened carefully to the various contributors at the CBI workshop and an author-illustrator from the midlands said she had self-published her first children’s book so that it would serve as a “calling card” for future projects when she would go knocking on the doors of publishing houses.
This was the route for Olivia and me, but we needed more expertise on board. It was time to call in the younger generation. Her son, Fintan, and my daughter Aifric, joined The Team and we had regular zoom meetings where we pooled our ideas. Fintan (in New Mexico) took charge of digital lay-out and design, preparing the book for the printers. Aifric (in the Loire Valley) took on the role of production, liaising with printer and digital marketing, including creating our website and managing social media. Olivia’s husband, John, offered to do ink drawings of the author and illustrator to add to our bio notes at the end of the book.
After much researching in the States, France and Ireland, we chose a printing company in Lyon, France which was competent in printing the large size format of children’s books and also offered us a hard copy sample for us to approve before they would do the full run. Without charging us, we were free to reject the sample or ask him to re-do elements we were not pleased with. As things worked out, we were more than happy with the sample. We ordered 80 copies and he threw in 15 more for free! Merci, Monsieur.
The rhyme is catchy, the water colour illustrations are colourful and incredibly detailed, but the real litmus test would be the audience. Would our little readers like it? Would they come back to it time and again?
A year since the start of the pandemic, I’m back in Dublin, but only able to meet the grandchildren in the park. With some trepidation I hand a copy to the four-year-old and another to the two-year-old. He flicks through it, while she is absorbed, engrossed in the pictures where she spies a worm wriggling out of a red apple, a detail I had never noticed in Olivia’s drawing despite having worked on the project for a year! A week later, in the same park, the smart four-year-old, despite boyish disinterest, can rattle off lines from the book. His sister looks at me and says “book” expecting me to bring a copy every week. Instead, I recite the rhyme for her while she adds corrections and tells me (from memory) what happens in each picture. Somehow, I think, our book has found its number one fan!
At the rate it is selling at the moment we will cover our printing costs, so profits on books sold in Ireland are going to LauraLynn Children’s Hospice www.lauralynn.ie and in the U.S. to “Lot 3 defence fund” stopline3.org.
(c) Nollaig Rowan
One Old Ostrich, Two Terrible Tigers. Words by Nollaig Rowan. Illustrations by Olivia Rowan. Available from the website for €12 (postage extra) theostrichbooks.com