Writing and Illustrating Books for Children by Christine Penberthy

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Christine Penberthy

Want to write books for children? Here are the things that I think are important as a writer and illustrator.

For me the most important thing to remember is how precious  that space is in a child’s mind. It is possible that it will be a life lasting memory, for the good or bad, so a lot of thought and care is needed. You have a responsibility to them.

With that in mind it is essential to have contact with children of the age group you are writing for– and write with them in mind as your audience. So the English must be good, the grammar and spelling, as well as the accuracy of the behaviour of any animal character. I think animals should eat and act like they do in the wild because that is an opportunity to teach.

That’s how I work but I am always ready to listen to another opinion. In my case, I gave my story to my daughter to read and to spot any mistakes. My daughter has a degree in business analysis and she likes my books. She finds my mistakes and tells me when she does, which was difficult at first but in the end I was very grateful for her honesty.

Now for the fun bit! It is fulfilling but really hard work to put it all together coherently.

Where does the inspiration come from? My Dad used to say this little rhyme to me:-

“There was an owl lived in an oak,

The more he saw the less he spoke,

The less he spoke the more he heard,

Why can’t you be like that wise old bird” 

As a child it didn’t make any sense to me but …Oh! boy it really does now. To be an observer is a great thing. Take time out to be still.

Little Yellow CarWhen illustrating, look at your ideas, try to organise the size of the pages and co-ordinate the illustrations with the story. Get a good variety of colours to create moods like happy, sleepy, excited or sad.

Why write? The only limits you have are those that you put on yourself. Most of us have self-doubts. Ride through them like they are just clouds of no real substance at all. Sometimes when I had a down patch it was something very simple: I was tired, or I had been in front of the lap top too long or I needed a nice cup of hot tea. Never despair, you can sort anything out if you try!

I like to keep notes of ideas as they crop up, then I can look at them later. Sometimes they work but sometimes they don’t. One story idea, for example, was an underwater story and when I started to do the illustrations the colours all became very much the same and a bit boring. I couldn’t make it work, but one day I might. I still have it in a pile of other stuff not completed. At some point I will go back and look at it again with fresh eyes.

Another thing that I was taught at art school was to prepare a space to work in. Whether you are writing or illustrating, have everything laid out ready. It is so easy to come up with an excuse that you haven’t got time, but it is very hard to do that when the table, chair and all the tools you need are right there in front of you.

If I said write from the heart what do I mean? To  me it means that I want to be writing how I feel, not how I think. Writing shouldn’t be mechanical; the page is a  place of inspiration. A place where writing my stories is a joy.

It can be difficult to write about certain subjects. Stories are inclined to be idealistic but that does not show the whole picture. A child’s life does not exclude difficult problems and sadness. I would never focus on the problem, I would always want to be optimistic, but we need to be very aware that a child is living in a very difficult world, wonderful things happen but scary, sad and bad things happen too.

For example, death. Love is a very powerful and everlasting thing. If someone has passed away in their life, to remember the love they have for them still, after they have gone, is something that will give them great comfort. No, we cannot explain away death but the comfort is real and that is what matters. Children have an innate wisdom – they understand eventually.

When writing for children we need to connect with the child that we were. They are still there inside us, but we have covered that simplicity with our worries. Set your worries aside and get writing!

(c) Christine Penberthy

About In the Garden:

In the GardenA wonderfully illustrated children’s book about a tale of two caterpillars and the big changes they face during the transformation from chrysalis to butterfly. We find the hidden habitants of the summer garden and look into the pond full of frogs and insects skipping on the water. We meet the two children from the house when they run into the garden to play and have a barbecue. The caterpillars turn into beautiful butterflies and fly off into the summer sky. It all ends with an owl and a starry night and all is well in the garden. Each page contains gorgeous detailed illustrations that will transport children to this magical place. The quality of kindness love and courage emanates throughout.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Born in Birmingham in 1940, Christine was delivered in a nursing home called St Ives. At 22 she went to St Ives, which had long been a dream, stepped off the train and knew she would never leave. She married into a Cornish family and had five children.
In 1960s she went to the St Ives School of Painting and joined the life classes led by Majorie Mostyn and Leonard Fuller.
Over the years, Christine has exhibited in many galleries in the town and had a one woman show at the Crypt Gallery.
Currently in recovery from cancer, Christine is so grateful to Treliske Hospital and medical staff who saved her life. She also wants to show others it is never too late to follow your dream eg publish your first book in your early eighties!

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