Author Spotlight: Pippa Chorley
Happy Tuesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
Thank you, thank you, thank you for showing up in droves (a real unit of measure) to support Tara Lazar! I mean I knew she was awesome...but...it was sheer madness. Over 150 participants in her giveaway and nearly 80 new subscribers! If you happened to miss her stellar interview, you can read it here.
The lucky winner of Tara's giveaway was Charlotte Offsay! She chose a picture book manuscript critique and I am in no way jealous...(cough). Okay, I'm totally jealous. As are many of you, no doubt. Make sure to tell Charlotte congrats and give her a follow!
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But first...we have a very special Author Spotlight. Pippa Chorley is celebrating her debut picture book, Counting Sheep. If you are a fan of comedy, well written lyrical picture books, and sheep launching themselves into the clouds...you will love this book.
Pippa is a member of the debut group, On the Scene in '19. Give them a follow and check out the other authors and artists with debuts this year!
Firstly and most importantly my 3 fantastic kids. They give me so many ideas. Simply watching them play and hearing the funny things they say have sparked many a manuscript over the years. Some of my stories are based on my kids personalities or things that have happened to them too. I recently wrote a story about a little girl behaving like a monkey that was based on a tantrum my Daughter had on a holiday in Central Park New York.
Secondly, Jasper my spaniel. My dog walks are essential to my writing as I use that quiet time each morning to iron out any creases in my work, listen to other author's podcasts, and most importantly clear my head ready for my mornings' writing.
Thirdly, a cup of coffee. Coffee and writing for me go hand in hand. Not just the taste of it but I also like the quite hubbub of small local coffee shops to write in too. Being surrounded by people going about their day to day business whilst sitting in a quiet corner to write really helps me for some reason. Despite the background noise I find it helps me focus.
What’s something you absolutely must have in your refrigerator or pantry?
I can’t believe I am confessing to this, but I have a terrible guilty pleasure for eating pick and mix sweets - much to my dentist’s disapproval! Perhaps it’s the kid in me, but my favourites are strawberry laces, white mice and fizzy cola bottles! Don’t tell my kids but I often have a secret stash at home that they know nothing about!
Definitely when I am surrounded by nature or with animals. I love large wild spaces where I can let my mind drift. Beaches, fields and woodlands. It doesn’t matter which, as they all offer something unique and have a different positive vibe, but when I am surrounded by nature I feel at my most creative.
Give us a little about your background. How did you get into kidlit, and why picture books?
I have always loved picture books. When I was 12 my baby brother came along and I used to love reading picture book stories to him at bedtime. I would often know them off by heart and even sketched pictures from them too as I loved to draw. In my early teens I wrote him a story about a teddy bears’ diary which I recently came across when clearing out a storage box.
Later when I took my A level in English Language I chose as part of my coursework to write and illustrate a children’s picture book. It was called ‘The Tale of Fluke the Dolphin’. So to answer your question, I think I have always wanted to do it, even before I really knew I did! I have always written and the genre of children’s literature feels very natural to me. I honestly believe I have found my calling, now that I have begun to do it as a career and that is truly a wonderful feeling.
I really liked the zany action in this book about counting sheep. Sheep on springs launching into the clouds is anything but a “quiet” bedtime story--and I love that! And I see your main character, Sam will be getting her own series! What is the story behind Sam and Counting Sheep?
Ha ha, yes I can’t wait for Sam’s second adventure to come out in print next year. It’s called ‘Stuffed!’ and was a lot of fun to write. It’s a good mix of humour and heart just like ‘Counting Sheep’ and will even feature a few familiar stuffed toys!
Sam’s character came about because I wanted to create a girl that was the right mix of sweet and sensitive, as well as wild and adventurous. I think we are all a muddle of characteristics and I wanted to make her realistic too. Whilst she loves the colour pink her favourite animal is a crocodile - and I love that!
Writing the story ‘Counting Sheep’ really did begin one night when I couldn’t sleep. I remembered my dad telling me as a child to count sheep jumping over a fence and I thought how fun it would be if they couldn’t quite do it. I played with the idea until the early hours and began to imagine the sheep trying out crazy ways to get over the fence. Suddenly the next morning on a bus into work I found myself scribbling down the first draft on a scrap of paper from my handbag, bleary eyed yet full of excitement as the story poured out of me. Within 3 hours I had a complete first draft and I buzzed about it for weeks afterwards.
Talk to us about your writing process. Getting the words right for a story in meter or rhyme takes a particular kind of patience and precision. Counting Sheep has a fun cadence and rhyme scheme. I think it really reads well out loud. How long did this story take to develop and how did its various drafts evolve over time? What did you do to get it to its finished form?
‘Counting Sheep’ has gone through many revisions regarding both structure and content until it found its finished form. Unlike my second book that I wrote only last year, this book was written a long time ago and has had many years of edits.
Originally it featured a little boy called Tom and in about version 3 all the sheep in the flock had been individually named. By version 6 or 7 I introduced an extension to the spring scene of the different bounces that was suggested by a published writer I knew. Then by version 8 I made a major change to the ending to make it more clear that Sam was the solver of the original problem rather than the sheep. An idea sparked by a SCBWI critique group discussion. It was probably a further 3 versions on from there that the book came to its final publication point.
I used to be frightened of editing and afraid of people’s opinions of my work and any edits they suggested, but I have come to realise this is essential for any writer to make sure their work is at its very best and now I embrace change. The more edits the better!
Everything! It really was a childhood dream come true. But not only that, I feel if it had never happened I would forever be incomplete as a person somehow. The instinct to write is natural and innate, and a cathartic experience for me, even when the topic is a flock of zany sheep! I am over the moon that I now have the opportunity to share it with children other than my own, and I hope that they find as much joy in reading my story as I found in writing it.
What sorts of things have you been doing to celebrate and promote Counting Sheep?
I had a wonderful book launch for ‘Counting Sheep’ at a beautiful bookstore on Orchard Road in Singapore called Kinokuniya. It was a real celebratory affair with delicious sheep cupcakes made by a dear friend and lots of amazing support from loved ones.
I then set about visiting lots of schools in Singapore which was not only great PR but also a lot of fun. It’s my favourite way to promote my book: in-person storytelling. I much prefer it to social media (sorry Brian ). I think it must be the teacher in me!
I have also worked hard to develop an online presence though, as I think it is essential in this day and age. Hiding behind my notebook will not get me anywhere! It’s also a great way to connect to the writing community out there too who I find are amazingly helpful and supportive of one another. I joined a wonderful debut group called @OntheScenein19, as well as Kidlit411 and 12x12; set up a website, and joined Twitter and Instagram. I have to say I do enjoy the Instagram platform particularly as I am quite a visual person.
What kinds of things do you count when you can’t sleep?
Great question! When I can’t sleep it’s usually because something is worrying me. Being a writer I find that if I write the problem down I can let it rest till the morning and get myself to sleep. If not, I do take my mind to my ‘happy place’, no counting of sheep I’m afraid but definitely a few Highland cattle! Growing up I spent all of my summers in Galloway Scotland playing in the pine forests and sand dune beaches - it was rustic paradise! If I transport my mind there I feel instantly calm and free. Taking your mind to your happy place when you can’t sleep is a great way to let the mind unwind and is always my failsafe!
Thank you, it’s really lovely to hear that you enjoyed visiting my site. Being a teacher I am always looking for ways to extend children’s learning and engagement with books. Offering colouring and craft linked to my story felt like a natural and important thing to do. As a mum too, I want families to feel that when visiting my website it’s not just information about the author but they can find fun and enriching activities to do together too.
‘Stuffed’ comes out next year and features my spunky little girl character Sam again. This time there are no sheep involved, but it is set at nighttime again. In ‘Stuffed’, Sam’s cuddly toys come to life and have an argument about who sleeps where. Sam wakes up to find them all strewn across her bedroom floor and sets about solving their problem. It was a lot of fun to write and when I think about it I always have a giggle so I hope children out there will enjoy it too.
‘Out of the Box’ is about an unusual gift Sam’s granny gives her. Sam is disappointed to find it’s not quite what she asked for but with a little bit of her imagination, wonderful adventures begin.
I am particularly lucky because Danny Deeptown, my wonderful illustrator for Counting Sheep, will also be doing the next two books. He is a true talent and and a real gentleman too. I LOVE working with him and can’t wait to see his illustrations for the next one.
Looking back on the past several months, what advice do you have for authors about to experience their debut picture book launch?
Gosh there is so much to say! Firstly good luck! Secondly expect it to be a busy time for you and a big learning curve, so do as much prep beforehand as you can to make the journey easier.
Make sure you have all your info to hand for whenever you might need it (ie. usernames for social media, your web address, a decent author photo and bio, book cover shot etc). Plan ahead what you want a school visit to look like. Do you need props or a special outfit for your story telling, do you have examples of the craft you want to make with kids or activities or presentations you want to offer. Have some simple SWAG made, to give a little extra buzz around your new book (simple stickers, bookmarks, badges etc work great). Finally, set up a launch somewhere that resonates with your story, it doesn’t have to be a bookstore or anything too huge or too fancy but make sure you celebrate your achievement and enjoy yourself because that’s what a launch is all about!
When you think about continuing your work as a picture book author, what makes you most excited?
Seeing an idea become a story and finally a real book you can hold in your hand is pure magic. I can’t wait for my next one to complete that process. It is such a thrill!
At the moment I am busy revising ‘Out of the Box’ ready for publication but I always have a number of stories on the go at any one time. Recently I have begun to write a lot of prose rather than rhyme which is a new genre for me and one I am really enjoying. I like trying my hand at different styles as it pushes me and keeps me on my toes.
What are some picture books published recently that have inspired you or had you laughing out loud?
So many! There are some fantastic writers and illustrators out there at the moment and it’s hard to name only a few.
I love the sentiment and humour in Amy Dykman and Charles Santoso’s new book, ‘Dandy’.
I love the emotion in ‘The Rabbit Listened’ by Cori Doerrfeld.
I love the concept behind ‘The Wall in the Middle of the Book’ by Jon Agee
And the humour in ‘We Don’t Eat Our Classmates’ by Ryan T Higgins.
That one made me laugh out loud!
I think it’s really important as a writer to read what’s coming out at the moment and keep on