Vanessa Locke: Writing children's book with love
Growing up Vanessa Locke loved reading books written by Dr. Seuss. The warmth that the books exuded soon became her favourite childhood memory. The memories, in turn, inspired Vanessa's to take the plunge into the lovely world of children's literature. Her first book "My Silly Billy, Squeaky Cheeky, Floppy Poppy Family" got many children literature fans excited. She is currently working on her second children's' book, called One Brick Dog.
In conversation with TAL, the mother of two speaks about her inspirations, challenges, and her eternal love for children/teen literature.
When were you bitten by the writer’s bug?
Looking back at my primary school years, I enjoyed reading and language convention (spelling, punctuation & grammar) as individual endeavours; the enjoyment of putting it all together came much later. I wasn’t a kid with a million stories. Instead, I was the kid others came to for help with words. I was almost like a ‘walking thesaurus’. And, one thing led to the other, and I knew I loved to write.
Who are your favourite writers? What kind of genre do you like?
My favourite writers reflect my favourite genres; Dr Seuss (Theodore S Geisel), Eric Carle, Enid Blyton, Lynley Dodd, Jackie French, Mem Fox, Erin Hunter and JK Rowling. For me, there is a magnetism emitted from the children’s and young adult genres that I can’t resist. There’s something truly enchanting in the combination of real and imagined worlds, language to learn from or laugh at and the charm of a lovingly illustrated page to prod your imagination.
What was it about children literature that fascinated and attracted you?
I think it stems from how it connects me to my own childhood. When I read a piece of children’s literature, I am transported to a place of innocence, wonderment and intrigue and in the end, I love the feeling that’s created. This positive relationship to kid literature that I had and still have is what I aim to foster with my writing. In this age of being connected 24/7 it’s incredible to pick up an object that doesn’t rely on an Internet connection and yet have it give you an immersive experience. To me, that’s children’s literature in a nutshell.
Was there any particular incident that prompted you into the world of children fiction?
It was more of a surge of ‘I have a dream and although I have no clue what I’m doing, I’m going to step on the path and start walking.’ I’d been toying with the idea in my head for nearly a year before my focus turned to the possible and I put blinkers on to perceived obstacles. That was it! I picked up a sharpened pencil, grabbed a notebook and sat in the Spring sun to begin designing characters and developing a story.
What is your thought process behind creating a book?
It’s definitely an organic process. Thoughts and ideas about characters or story elements can happen at unexpected times and I’ve been known to write on napkins with eyeliner to capture a thought! In my experience so far, the main character is the first to form visually in my mind, then the antagonist (whether it be another person or set of circumstances) and from there, the story emerges. In both books, the start and end came naturally so the majority of my time was spent getting the protagonist from one end to the other.
One of my favourite parts of the process is character design and, being an independent author, having creative direction on illustration concept. I enjoyed researching the tiniest details such as clothing colour palette and facial expressions, which I then forwarded as an outline to my illustrator to bring to life.
What is your first book all about? How did you stumble upon the story?
My first book is called, “My Silly Billy, Squeaky Cheeky, Floppy Poppy Family.” The story is told from the first-person perspective of a pre-schooler named Rose and follows a typical day in her life. Her family speak to each other in rhyme and the storyline proceeds in getting to know the family and how they relate to each other with this endearing tradition. Rose has a love of bunnies, and most scenes include a toy bunny or the wearing of bunny slippers! In the spirit of encouraging a shared and engaging reading experience, I have a “Mr Bunny” who comes with me on my author visits. The children who are involved in the reading session can cuddle Mr Bunny during Q & A session. He really is the star of the show!
Being a parent and listening to how children talk with each other and indeed how we parents talk to our children, the theme of the story was there and waiting to be written. Kids love tongue twisters, rhymes and words that describe bodily functions. The power of a simple word out of context is a funny thing. I spent considerable time doing the groundwork for words that would engage this age group (3-7 years) and utilized the feedback given by my children.
What was the reception like – for the first book?
It was an experience I’ll never forget. The only people who knew about my book venture were my husband and children so when I announced the launch of the eBook on social media one Sunday night, my phone didn’t stop pinging! From that point, I was inundated by requests for a print edition from family, friends and colleagues who were beyond supportive for my new publishing endeavour. I set to work again, not knowing anything about composing a print edition – it was a crash course in softbacks, hardbacks, printing companies, costs and formatting. Fortunately, the first print run was timed with pre-Christmas supply and the entire run sold mostly as Christmas presents to cover the unexpected costs of printing and delivery. My heart felt full as I received messages and photos of children reading my book…it was another part of my dream coming true.
What is your second book about?
My second book is loosely based on an occurrence that I witnessed many days ago as I drove my children to school. Rain or shine, an elderly man would walk his tiny, tiny dog – a dog so tiny that only the tip of the dog’s nose and tail would peek out from under his dog coat. It was the sweetest thing! I would transfix on the couple as they walked knowingly of the other’s capacity. My daughter once burst out, “It’s a One Brick Dog!” meaning the dog in entirety was contained within the perimeter of one pavement brick. By the time I had driven past the intersection, I knew that was the title of my next book. “One Brick Dog” AKA “Button”, is a teacup Yorkie who lives with his loving owner and the story follows Button’s growth in confidence. It’s a tale with all the kid lit trimmings; talking animals, illustrations that make your eyes scan the page and onomatopoeia (words that describe sounds like plop or whizz). Written for a slightly older age group (5-9 years), I look forward to sharing it with young dog-lovers around Adelaide soon.
Have you faced any challenges when it came to writing your book? How did you overcome them?
There were many challenges but I’m a firm believer that (most) every problem has a solution. We don’t live in a vacuum! The most fundamental challenge was unvaryingly investing time to promote, market and network. Working independently, all of these processes don’t happen without input, direction and action from me. The challenge stemmed from not only being a ‘hands-on’ parent – wanting to spend time with my husband and family but needing to retreat to the office - but also the opposition from multiple autoimmune conditions that continue to test my limits.
(Vanessa developed multiple autoimmune conditions since age 11 and manages to handle Type 1 Diabetes and Hypothyroid, Ulcerative Colitis, Vitiligo and most recently Sjogren.)
How did you find a publisher for your book? How easy or difficult is to find publishers for books, especially children fiction in Adelaide?
To date, my books are published independently under my fledgeling imprint called ‘Books Made With Heart.” I organise the print runs and manage logistics and delivery from my office. I’ve recently installed a shop button on my site and love the customised shopping experience I can offer my readers.
There are a few publishing houses in Adelaide I’m looking to approach - the type of publishers that support writers independent in nature. Once again, before this step, research and preparation are involved. It’s a thrilling prospect.
What advice would you give up and coming writers? How should they go about creating a niche for themselves?
There are a few snippets (isn’t that a cool word? We must bring it back) I can offer: expect that you will learn a lot, expect to wrestle your doubt, check grammar manually and don’t underestimate the strength of your network.
In creating a niche, I feel it’s a lot to do with heart…it must be something you connect with that you can then share with your audience. The passion that I have for watercolour style illustration is an element in my books that is palpable; I have found it the main attraction to Generation Y and their children. Adding a twist to the style by incorporating manga characteristics gives the book niche appeal.
What are your future plans like?
There are many plans on the drawing board! I’m in the final stages of illustration for One Brick Dog so as soon as it’s printed, I’ll be in launch mode. I’m continuing to develop my social media channels and looking at complementing printing options such as colouring and dot-to-dot books for my publications. Expanding my online shop is also a focus; appealing merchandise to encourage a bond with reading eg reward stickers, bookmarks and even Mr Bunny. Aside from that, you’ll find me at Argo savouring a gingerbread latte or dipping into a smoothie bowl. It’s a full life and I feel blessed to live in such a vibrant and arts centred city such as Adelaide.
Vanessa is a proud 70’s baby. She was born in Brisbane and moved to Adelaide as an infant. She lives with her soul mate of 19 years Anthony, and their two children Skyla, 13, Ethan, 10. An animal lover, she is the Bunny mama to Angel, her Vienna mini lop house bunny along with Max, her senior dog and budgies Blueberry & Cucumber.
Learn more about her second book on Instagram.