Where do your ideas come from? Children (and adults) love to ask this question when they meet authors, not realising that sometimes the answer is not that exciting. And sometimes they are!
Last week, a picture book idea came to me in the shower. I do a lot of thinking there – it’s as good a place as any, right? I’d already had the seeds of the character after I finished writing Fergus the Farting Dragon – “What about a bunyip who burps?” I asked my illustrator friend.
I filed the idea away for another day, which turned out to be last week. There I was, in the shower, rub-a-dub-dubbing and the beginnings of my bunyip story unfurled in my mind.
The night-sounds are creepy – even sweet magpie chirps,
But nothing’s as scary as the Bunyip Who Burps.
I wrote notes after the shower and thought about it all the way to work – where I scribbled more notes before turning my attention to what I was being paid to do.
What initially started as the tale of a bunyip who was regarded impolite because of his burping problem, but then fell in love with another burping bunyip, turned into something quite different. Nice … but not original. I stewed over this for a while.
And then a news story about a controversial highway development near a significant wetland gave me the story I was searching for. Bunyips are a “large mythical creature from Australian Aboriginal mythology, said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks, riverbeds, and waterholes” – what if my bunyip saved the wetland he lived in?
When I got home, I wrote more notes. And by the end of the next day, I had the first draft of a rhyming picture book manuscript titled The Bunyip Who Burps.
The next day, I refined that draft. And then I refined it some more. It had to be right. It had to sound right – both the rhyme and the meter. (Combining the two is hard. It’s not just a matter of finding the only rhyming word that fits.)
Many publishers, agents and editors don’t like rhyming picture books. Why? Because often the rhymes are bad. Often the meter makes you grate your teeth. And sometimes the rhymes are stale. More on that here.
I enjoy writing in rhyme and it does come naturally, so I’m happy to give it a go. If you are keen on writing in rhyme, here’s another article that takes away the fear factor.
So, I read my story aloud over and over, stressing beats and counting syllables. Sometimes I had to change the rhyme and therefore the whole couplet. And so it went.
I’ve had two beta readers read the manuscript. They liked it – one suggested a change to a couplet she felt didn’t quite work. So I played around with that until I was happy.
Now, I’m going to set the story aside for a while. I’m going to let it simmer and come back to it after my writing retreat in Ireland (six days to go!). And then I’m going to look at it with fresh eyes and see what I can do to make it even better.
In the meantime, I’ll draw.